EPISODE 43 – THE BRIDGE TRANSCRIPT

JAKE:

After being led through this door under the direction and aid of a . . . Cat, I’m pretty hesitant about what I might find. For the first time in many a door – perhaps not since the first Ostium door that took me to Roanoke – I step through and stand with my eyes firmly closed, taking slow breaths. My remaining senses tell me little; there is next to no sound. A light breeze perhaps? Yes, I can feel it on my face. I take in a deep lungful and can smell . . . The sea . . . Could it be? Could I possibly be somehow back in the Ostium Network? Am I now standing on the terra firma isla of Gibraltar? I do have a sense of wide open space about me.

I open my eyes . . .

No such luck.

[Break]

It’s a hotel . . . A hotel ballroom in fact. And I’m overcome by a wave of hotel-related thoughts – yeah, I have to go with the water metaphor here, being on the ocean and all. Thought number one: I’m brought back to the Avalon Casino on Catalina. Yes, I know that’s not a hotel, but the ballroom possesses a grace and grandeur quite similar to the one I find myself in now. Except this one is in a state of disrepair. At the far end from me is a sweeping vista of what was once a continuous line of majestic floor to ceiling windows. The view must’ve been simply spectacular. Now every window is broken: a series of jagged glass jaws making it seem as if in the waters everything wants to bite you . . . I guess that’s not too far off from the truth. 

Thought number two is, of course, the Overlook Hotel. Yeah, it’s not just the jagged windows. This whole place is old and abandoned and used and . . . Damned creepy. So expecting Johnny to come jumping out from somewhere proclaiming his arrival is . . . Par for the course here. It is at least sunny out, with a deep, dark blue ocean. So I should be safe from the cold.

Thought number three is the sheer lavishness of this place. At one point, with the lights on, it’s must’ve been all shiny gold and silver and other expensive things from every angle. Gaudy to the max. And I’m automatically thinking of Hearst Castle. Can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s a California mainstay and if you haven’t been, its really worth the trip. You know, so you can see what one does when one has so much damn money they can literally fill their house with whatever decadent, priceless piece of art or furniture they feel like. 

Thought number four is . . . And yes, again, I’m aware I’m not talking about an official hotel, but the ballroom on the Titanic, or at least in the Titanic movie (made it through all three hours, and he could’ve got on the iceberg with her in my humble opinon) definitely has some similarities with this place. It’s got the same over the top feel, not to the nth degree as Hearst Castle, but there was some serious money put into this place for some seriously rich hotel guests.

And thought number five . . . Nah, that’s it. I’m all out of hotel thoughts.

[Break]

I walk across the great ballroom, feeling dust and grit crunch and scrape beneath my feet. I reach one of the broken windows and breathe in that wonderfully fresh sea air. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the ocean, not since the old rock of Gibraltar. It’s a clear sky, a warm sun shining off the water giving it that incredible glinting effect. And then something launches itself out of the ocean in the distance. I don’t catch it in time. All I see is white foam. 

Okay, whatever it was, it was big. 

Then I see another sign of movement off to my right. Again, it’s too fast and I miss it, but it looked grayish. The amount of foam is about the same, so we’ve got two big somethings out there. 

I look to the middle and don’t really focus on anything, waiting for a sign of movement.

And then before my every eyes, two monstrous sea creatures erupt from the dark waters and cross by each other like curving . . . Well, I guess a double rainbow is pretty accurate. There’s two definable halves to them: a solid bullet shaped half, and then long tentacles held together like a grouping of water pipes . . .

Holy shit. Is it possible? Gotta be.

I’ve just seen my first Kraken . . . And that’s plural.

Unbelievable.

ETTA: Is someone there?

I turn around, mighty majestic sea creatures instantly forgotten.

ETTA: Who are you? What are you doing here?

I’m not sure what to say.

ETTA: Are you . . . Frank? No, that’s not possible.

JAKE: I’m . . . Jake. Jake Fisher.

ETTA: How did you get here? What are you doing here?

JAKE: Fair questions, and they’re sort of related. I came through that door from . . . Another world. I’m . . . I’m a time traveler of sorts, and going through doors to different times and different worlds is my thing. And whatever’s running the show has decided that this place is my next port of call.

ETTA: The Transcontinental Bridge.

JAKE: The . . . What?

ETTA: You don’t even know where you are, do you?

JAKE: Not a clue. But this looks like a pretty special place, or at least was. And I just saw something out there . . . That shouldn’t be possible. At least not where I’m from.

ETTA: Well, you’re in what used to be the Transcontinental Hotel. Just past Watchtower 8. 

JAKE: Okay, that doesn’t really help. It’s almost like you’re speaking a different language.

ETTA: Sorry. Okay, the Transcontinental Bridge spans the Atlantic Ocean, coast to coast, providing a scenic and great way to travel the continents. Along the way are a number of attractions, like Aqualand, the Gold Dubloon Casino, and amenities such as the late Transatlantic Hotel. There are also Watchtowers spanning the entire Bridge, providing aid and constant traffic updates via radio.

JAKE:

From where we’re standing I can see one part of the Bridge spreading off into the distance until the horizon swallows it up. There’s not a single car in sight.

JAKE: Constant updates? Isn’t that a little . . . Excessive?

ETTA: Yeah. It is. That’s why I prefer to tell stories. Stories about the Bridge. And its history. 

JAKE: Do you know the story of this place? The hotel?

[Short pause]

ETTA: I do. The story of its sudden end. I know it all. But first, I want your story.

[Break]

JAKE: I only have so much time I get to spend in each world. I don’t know, it’s just how it is. And I just know when that time is up and I’ve got to leave. But it’s always been that way, since I went through the first door. Even if I didn’t know it then. I’m always on borrowed time, so to speak. And until recently, every time I went through a door – whether it was just me, or with Monica or Steve, it was always just us there. No other people. And I still have no idea why. It’s something I’ve been wrestling with for a long time. Why are there no people? Were they there before and once that door from Ostium was opened, did they go somewhere? Did something on a  . . . I don’t know: quantum, metaphysical . . . Supernatural level happen? Or were they never there to begin with? Is it all some construct of the Ostium Network? Something manufactured, possibly. Or is it something else entirely? I simply don’t know.

[Short pause]

ETTA: Are you . . . Telling the truth? You’re not lying to me right?

JAKE [sincere]: No. Absolutely not. This is what really happened to me. And if Monica or Steve were here, they’d back me up completely. And the no people thing is one of the strangest aspects of this whole crazy journey, and I don’t know if it’s somehow because of me, but I sure hope not.

ETTA: I don’t think it is. 

JAKE: Why’s that?

ETTA: Let me tell you my story first.

[Break]

ETTA: When I was a little girl, this hotel was a thing of luxury, where those who could afford it got to experience a piece of paradise on the Transcontinental Bridge. For the tenth anniversary there was a special party. My mom was the concierge and we got to have our own little party with the staff. I was 8, so I couldn’t keep my eyes open for long. My mom put me to bed in a special place. When I woke up I was on a boat. The day after the party there was a sign out front of the hotel saying PERMANENTLY CLOSED. 

[Short pause]

ETTA: Everyone had disappeared and no one knew where they were or what happened to them. Except for me. I got out. I was found. But I still don’t know what happened. I guess, sometimes, people disappear and there isn’t a good or logical reason for it. And you can keep worrying yourself about it, or live your life.

JAKE: That’s . . . Incredible. I’m sorry for your . . . Loss, I guess. For what happened. So you’ve moved on?

ETTA: Gods no, definitely not. I keep coming back here, hoping I’ll find something I missed. Some clue. I’ve dedicated my life to finding every little piece of this place that shows up. I’ve tried to move on, but . . . I can’t.

JAKE: Yeah, I know how that goes. And unfortunately, I’ve reached the end of my stay here at . . . The Transcontinental Hotel.

ETTA [Amused]: I hope your time here was enjoyed and worthwhile and you’ll consider us again in the future.

JAKE: Oh yes, it certainly was, and I definitely will. I’ll even give you a five start rating on Yelp.

ETTA: What’s Yelp?

JAKE: Er, don’t worry about it. But I need to get moving on, to the next place. The next world. 

ETTA: A lot of people wouldn’t believe a word you’ve said. But I’ve seen a lot on this Bridge. So, I think I do. Yeah. And I hope I’ve been able to help you, a little.

JAKE: You have. Thank you for that. Thank you for making me feel . . . Less alone in the group of people who keep losing people. The arena of lost souls . . .

ETTA: That was a little creepy.

JAKE: Yeah, it was. Maybe morbid too. Sorry. 

ETTA: So how do you make your exit?

JAKE: Same way I came in. I go through that door.

ETTA: Safe journeys, Jake.

JAKE: And good luck in your search . . . Hey, I never got your name.

ETTA: Etta. For Henrietta.

JAKE: That’s a really nice name. Good luck, Etta.

ETTA: You too Jake.

[Door opening, then closing.]

EPISODE 42 – SLUMBERLAND TRANSCRIPT

[MONICA:]

Where the fuck am I? My head is killing me. I know a literally put a gun to that thing’s head and told her to send me anywhere, which probably wasn’t very wise, and now I’m fuck knows where, but did I have to have the head-splitting pain as well? Wish I’d brought something. Medicine. Booze. Whatever. Just something.

Okay. Where might I be then? Let’s have a gander.

I’m not face-planted on the ground for a change, which is a good thing. Going through those doors really throws off my sense of balance. For a moment up feels like down, and down feels like up. Topsy-turvy like.

Okay. Deep breaths. Breath in that nice, clean, country air . . .

Because I am in the country. Well, countryside. Sort of. I’m on an . . . Island. Yeah, definitely an island. Doesn’t seem too big, as far as islands go. But enough that there’s a decent sized town here. It’s cold too. Fresh and cold. Clean. Like I said. The water’s a dark blue, looks deep. Can’t see a boat anywhere, so no way to get to the mainland if I want to.

Yeah, don’t worry, the similarity to the location of the Ostium Network is not lost on me.

I’m also picking up a Roanoke vibe. Yes, fine. I was never actually in fucking Roanoke. I know. You don’t need to remind me. But I know a guy who was. And he liked telling people what it was like. I was definitely one of those people. I got to hear a lot about it. So I fucking felt like I was there. This place is like that. Also kind of like where Ostium is. In Northern California. Also kind of like Fort Bragg. And Mendocino County, where I said my camo-fatigue wearing buddies were based.

Okay. That’s disturbing. That’s a lot of similarities to Ostium. And Jake isn’t really fucking involved.

Not cool.

But that’s why we’re here, right? To find good old Jakey.

Of course, it also describes large swaths of this country, assuming this is still ye olde United States of America, on both sides of the coast.

So other than healthy dark green trees, what else can I see here . . . Is that a . . . dome? Okay, kind of a weird place to put a dome. But then again, I don’t know where the fuck I am, so maybe it’s perfect place to put a dome. I’m definitely not the right person to say otherwise. I see some streets, some buildings, houses, pathways. So yeah, definitely getting a strong Ostium vibe here.

Could it be another Ostium? There was one class, way back when at the Ostium Network, when they talked about some other attempts to make a town. I was never exactly sure if it was the guys at the Ostium Network who tried it and weren’t exactly successful, or if it was some other group of someones. But they threw out names. Didn’t mean anything to us, really, but sure made them sound smart.

What were they?

Tanis.

Night Vale.

Limetown.

Gosh, there were a few more . . .er . . . Come on brain, do what you’re meant to do.

What the hell were they? Weird fucking names.

Oh . . . Almost got it. It was . . . Ess . . . Ess . . . Eskew!

That was fucking it! And one more . . . Damn. Something . . . Something to do with sleep? Yeah. Sleeping. No. Not sleeping. Slumber. Slumbering. Slumber . . . Slumberland! Yes!

Fucking Slumberland!

And as soon as I say that a man appears from seemingly nowhere. Yeah, I know that’s not really possible, but if I am in one of those weird aforementioned towns, then maybe it is possible. You never know. But I also think I might not have been paying much attention and he just came around a corner or from one of those buildings, through a door . . .

He’s seen me and he’s coming towards me. He doesn’t look hostile or anything, just curious. This should be interesting.

He’s not a tall guy, a bit on the short side you’d say. Five-eight. Maybe five-nine. Slim build. His face looks kinda odd, not your average-looking one you’d see on the street anywhere. Whatever that means. But his eyes . . . They’re a bright crystal blue and . . . Fucking intense. It’s like there’s a fire in them. Talk about sparkling beauties. They’re almost mesmerizing.

He’s almost here. Time to seem normal.

I’ll wait for him to talk first.

[PAUSE]

THOMAS: Hello. My name is Thomas Edward M.

MONICA: Hi. I’m Monica.

THOMAS: Hello Monica. I am a freelance sound man.

MONICA: Okay, Thomas. What do you record?

I have absolutely no intention of letting him know I’m recording him too.

THOMAS: A mysterious client has hired me to record the oral history of an obscure island community in the Great Lakes Region.

MONICA: Are you being serious?

THOMAS: Yes.

MONICA: Well, where the hell is this?

THOMAS: This . . . Is Slumberland.

MONICA: No [POT BANGING SOUND] way! Hey, what the [POT BANGING SOUND] was that? Why can’t I [POT BANGING SOUND] swear? What the hell? What the [POT BANGING SOUND] is going on here? Hell is okay, but [POT BANGING SOUND] is off limits? What about [POT BANGING SOUND]? Or [POT BANGING SOUND]? God-[POT BANGING SOUND]-dammit. [POT BANGING SOUND]. [POT BANGING SOUND]. [POT BANGING SOUND]! Why is this [POT BANGING SOUND] happening to me?

THOMAS: I don’t know. I don’t think I can help you. I’ve interviewed another person, named Doreen, who appears to have a similar predisposition.

MONICA: Predispo-[POT BANGING SOUND]-sition!

THOMAS: I would prefer it if you would refrain from shouting at me.

MONICA [breath]: You’re right. I’m sorry, Thomas. All that was un-[POT BANGING SOUND]-called for. God! It’s gonna take a while to get fff- . . . Used to that. So I really am in Slumberland?

THOMAS: Yes. This. Is. Slumberland.

MONICA: You like saying that, don’t you?

THOMAS: Yes. Indeed.

MONICA: So what is there to do for fun around here?

THOMAS: That depends. On who you ask.

MONICA: I’m asking you.

THOMAS: Well. I like to interview people.

MONICA: Uh-huh.

THOMAS: Would you be willing to participate?

MONICA: An interview? About what?

THOMAS: I’m just a freelance sound man. I’m here to record the stories of the people of Slumberland.

MONICA: But I’m not from Slumberland.

THOMAS: I don’t believe that. We are on Slumberland. You are here. Therefore you are a person of Slumberland.

MONICA: Look! For [POT BANGING SOUND] sake! Five minutes ago I wasn’t here. I was in fff- . . . I was in a place called the Ostium Network.

THOMAS: The. Ostium. Network?

MONICA: Yes. A place very different from here. Probably very, very far away too. And then I was just here.

THOMAS: How did you get here?

MONICA [sigh]: Through a door. I’m looking for someone.

THOMAS: Who?

MONICA: A man named Jake Fisher.

THOMAS: I have interviewed a number of people in Slumberland. I have not interviewed or come across anyone called Jake Fisher.

MONICA: You been doing this for a while?

THOMAS [heavy]: Yes.

He says the word like he’s been doing this for a very long time. Maybe years. Maybe centuries. What the hell is this place?

MONICA: Thank you, Thomas. For your time and help. Doesn’t sound like Jake’s here. I need to move on.

THOMAS: You could try calling him?

MONICA: With what?

THOMAS: My shellphone.

MONICA: You’re [POT BANGING SOUND] what?

THOMAS: My shellphone. It’s how we communicate with people on the island. Although you need to make sure you pay for the call.

MONICA: Or what?

THOMAS: Or the seagulls will come for you.

And that’s all I can [POT BANGING SOUND] take. I start running. As fast as I can. Away from him. I don’t look back. I keep going and count to fifty in my head. Putting as many trees and building between Thomas and me as I can. My breath is coming heavy now and I slow down, needing to catch it.

Then I finally look back.

Thomas is nowhere in sight. Okay. Good. Then I move on to my next thought.

How the fuck am I going to get off Slumberland?

Hey! Well, that’s something. At least I can fucking swear now.

Fuck yes!

Fuckitty-fuck-fuck! With a fucking cherry on top!

Okay. Now that I’ve got that out of my system . . . Let’s head on over to that lighthouse over there.

I jog over and it doesn’t take long. I can hear weird sounds and even weirder music from within. I don’t think I want to find out who it is or what’s going on, on the other side. I concentrate, close my eyes, turn the handle, and pull open the door . . .

The music and sounds are quieter now, muffled. I open my eyes and see the darkness I’ve seen so many goddamn times after opening a door. Before I can decide if I’m going to hear any banshees, I step through, closing the door behind me.

EPISODE 41 – THE EARTH COLLECTIVE TRANSCRIPT

JAKE:

I open my eyes and see nothing but darkness at first. I suppose I should be worried, but I’ve got a mountain of other concerns to deal with, so this just gets added to the list. I force myself to be patient and wait. I’ve got nothing left to lose at this point. Light soon starts trickling in like streams of bubbles sparkling and rising to the surface, caused by people jumping into a calm ocean. Sorry to get a little purple prose on you there. I guess it’s something I’m learning about myself. You see . . . it’s because I don’t know much about yours truly. Who I am. What I do. 

I’ve . . . I’ve lost all my memories.

[PAUSE]

JAKE:

Now that I can see a bit, the optical information being transmitted to my brain isn’t very useful. I’m in a dark place without any artificially created light. But there are streaks, as I mentioned, coming through gaps and small holes: individually they afford a low level of lumens; collectively they cast a vague glow, giving me a chance to get an idea of where I am. 

I’m in some sort of box.

Great. So not that helpful.

Let’s try my other senses to see if I can extract some more information.

My ears pick up a repetitive rumbling of machinery and movement. My body, my sense of touch feels that movement as I am jostled softly side to side. 

Okay. The box is moving. So . . . I’m in some sort of vehicle.

I take that as my cue and pull myself to my feet. I have some aches . . . Quite a few actually, but no acute pains. Feels like no bones are broken, which is definitely a good thing. And I’m just going to keep ignoring the fact that I don’t remember who I am or how I got here for the moment. I take a few steps forward. I’m dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. I’m able to see on my shirt are four bugs. Beneath the insects are the words: THE BEETLES. SACRAMENTO ZOO. At first this means absolutely nothing to me, and then, like a bingo ball slotting into place, I remember this shirt. I got it at the Sacramento Zoo a while ago, years before, but I’m not sure how many. I had fun at that zoo. Seeing the cool giraffes up close. The lions letting everyone know how tough they were. And the pink flamingos looking weird all standing on one leg, grouped together. But the important thing is . . . I remember now. The T-shirt triggered my memory of it and the trip to the zoo. 

So . . . The bad news: I still don’t remember who I am, why I’m here, or where I am. The good news: I’ve remembered something, which means I can hopefully remember more somethings as time passes.

Okay. Feeling much better about myself now than I did five minutes ago.

[PAUSE]

JAKE:

I take more steps, getting to a wall, touching it, then going to another, and doing the same. There appears to be nothing else and no one else in here but me. No other objects. The walls feel . . . Inconsistent. On one I feel wood I think, on another some sort of plastic maybe? Nothing very useful, but to me it means a lot. It means I appear to have just my memories missing from my brain. All the other details and knowledge from breathing and walking to knowing the difference between plastic and wood is there. 

And just when I start feeling good about myself, things change.

[SOUNDS OF SQUEALING BRAKES AND END OF MACHINERY]

Okay, the vehicle’s stopped. Why? I start looking around for a way out, some sort of exit, and I can’t find one. I’d like something clear and concrete. You know, something like a lighted rectangle that clearly says: Here’s the door. 

No such luck.

And that’s when . . .

[KNOCKING SOUND]

I don’t know what to do.

[KNOCKING SOUND]

I turn to the wall where the sound is emanating from, closing in on it.

[LOUDER KNOCKING SOUND]

MAN: Is deuh somebody in deuh? 

JAKE: Do I answer him?

MAN: … *Listening*

JAKE: What do I say?

MAN: Hello?

JAKE: Is it too risky? But then what have I got to lose?

[A FEW STEPS WALKING AWAY]

JAKE: Wait! I’m in here! I need help!

MAN: Hello? Is deuh someone in deuh?

JAKE: Yes! I can’t . . . I can’t find the door. I don’t know how to get out.

[SHORT PAUSE]

JAKE:

A thunk and click comes from the wall I think the door might be on, and it opens suddenly, pouring in a crashing wave of sunlight and dust almost blinding me. When my eyes catch up to the light I see the barrel of what I think is a gun poking  into the dark room through the sheet of light. I freeze, not knowing what to do. 

MAN: Whu ah yu?

JAKE: I don’t know! I don’t remember!

MAN: WHU AH YU!

JAKE: He shouts in a strange accent.

JAKE: I don’t know! I think I hit my head or something, I can’t remember. 

JAKE: That’s not what happened, but maybe it will buy me some favor or time from this man. He steps through the wall of dust-filled light rays and I can see his face. It’s dirty and scarred, but not angry. I see more fear than anything else. 

MAN: How did yu get en heuh?

JAKE: Like I said… I don’t remember. I think I hit my head. 

JAKE: The man lowers his gun slowly to look closer at my head. 

MAN: Ah yu okay?

JAKE: I think so.

MAN: Ok. Yu need to seh Joseph.

JAKE: Who is Joseph?

MAN: Come. 

JAKE: The man waves his hand for me to follow him as he turns and steps through the door frame. I follow and step out onto a metal catwalk of sorts and look around. I can hardly believe what I’m seeing.  It’s an . . . RV. But an RV from Mad Max. Not so much with the crazy weaponry, but with all the stuff on the roof and the panels on the sides. It looks old and like it’s been going since the time of the dinosaurs. But it also looks like it could keep going until the heat death of the universe.

And that’s when I cast my gaze away from the RV and see a long row of the greatest number of RVs I’ve ever seen assembled other than at a ZZ Top convention . . . Yeah, I’m not sure why there would be a lot of RVs there, but I just feel like there would. But there are a fucking lot of RVs here. As far as I can see. They’re all stopped. People milling about. Some resting. Some chatting. A portrait of normal life except instead of houses, it’s RVs. 

The man clicks his radio and speaks a language I don’t understand, except for the word “Joseph.” There are a lot of people milling about, and only the man I’ve already met seems to notice me. He stands there keeping a wary eye on me. I hear the rumbling of another engine as a small ATV-like vehicle pulls up. Same MAD MAX aesthetic.  Okay, I’m starting to like it here.

The first man nods and lets out a curt “Joseph.” The new man gets off his ATV while keeping eye contact with me. He slides down the cloth that was covering his mouth and walks to a ladder like thing on the side of the RV we are standing on. He climbs up and approaches me. He holds his hand out, as if he wants a hand shake but it’s at the wrong angle. Clearly a local greeting of some type. I decide it’s best to shrug instead of attempt it. The man I presume to be Joseph looks at me strangely. Turning his focus to the other man, they share a short conversation in that strange language. Joseph talks slower and not as smoothly as the other man. 

JOSEPH: You thirsty?

JAKE: When those words exit his mouth I become very aware that yes, I am thirsty. 

JAKE: Yes actually, very.

JAKE: I notice that he doesn’t have the strange accent the other man has.  Joseph takes his own canteen off his belt and hands it to me. I take a drink. The water tastes odd. Not bad in any way, but it reminds me of the mineral water that we have back home, except I’ve never tasted the background flavors before. New minerals in their water maybe? Without realizing it I finish what was left in the canteen. I hand it back with a small apology. 

MAN: Refill suh?

JAKE: The man says as he gestures to Joseph’s canteen. Joseph quickly shakes his head no, and I think I detect what could be interpreted embarrassment on his face. 

JAKE: Your friend there got me out of that box and now you gave me your water. Thank you.

JOSEPH: Glad I could oblige.

JAKE: I almost expect him to tip his hat . . . If he were wearing one. I’m starting to get a Stephen King’s Gunslinger vibe off of him. Roland of Gilead. From Mid-World.

He’s got a good five inches on me. Strong build. Not the sort of guy you’d want to be on the receiving end of in a fight. But his face is kind, the eyes concerned. He’s definitely a good guy.

JAKE: Hi, I’m . . . Jake Fisher.

JAKE: Three seconds ago I didn’t have a clue what my name was, but forcing myself to say it causes it to just appear in my mind and fall from my mouth. I’m almost certain it is my actual name. The other man is a little worried that I suddenly know my name. I instinctively hold out my hand for a handshake.

He looks at my hand like I’m flipping him the bird, clearly he doesn’t know my gesture either.

JOSEPH: Joseph Crane. Sorry, I…. 

JAKE: Oh, no problem. It’s just a hand shake.


Joseph reaches out his hand and grasps mine in a strong grip. He’s instantly got the hang of it. I’m really starting to like this guy.

JAKE: What’s the deal with this place? You are all really into RVs, aren’t you?

Joseph looks at me then. Stares at me long and hard, reaches some sort of  decision, and gives a curt nod. 

JOSEPH: Follow me. Stay close.

He puts a hand up to the man who starts to follow us and then he turns and moves ahead at a fast pace. I immediately follow, needing to if I want to keep up with him. No clue where he’s going, so I need to keep close. I can’t help noticing the people, as we speedily walk in between groups of them. They’re all staring at us as we come close to them . . . Check that, they’re all staring at me. Because . . . Because I obviously don’t fit in here. I’m dressed different. I just look different. These people look . . . Hardened by life. They’ve spent their days traveling the road for most of their lives and it’s made them suspicious. Correctly so, I believe. 

I stop looking and focus on where Joseph’s taking me. He’s reached his destination: one of the RVs, and he’s got the door open for me. The look on his face urges me to move faster. I do and I’m soon in one part of the RV. It’s a pretty decent-sized space and is well-lived in. There’s a lot of stuff. Trinkets and books and parts and bits and pieces everywhere. But not like it’s because Joseph is messy, or he wants to show off that he has a lot of stuff to people. No. These are loved and cared for; well used items. All of them. They are objects of wealth and importance.

JAKE: This place is amazing!

JOSEPH: Thanks.

He closes the door behind him, checking through a window to make sure we don’t have any too curious people wanting to know who I am. Then he turns to me.

JOSEPH: Take a seat wherever you like. Feel free to move stuff around if you need to. You hungry? I’m gonna make some tea.

JAKE: Tea sounds great, thanks.

I find a chair in one corner and pick up the machine part and leather-bound notebook on it, putting them on a side table. I take a quick glance at the pages in the book, flicking through it. Lots of notes. And lists of names. The man is very detailed.

As I sit down I see a little machine sitting on a ledge, wires that lead into the low ceiling of the room and what appears to be a microphone. I’m definitely curious, but I’m not gonna touch anything in here without permission.

JOSEPH: Oh, that’s my transceiver. I’m charging it right now.

He finds himself a seat nearby.

JAKE: Transceiver? For what?

JOSEPH: I’ll get to that. 

He stares intently at me for a minute. I then notice the large blade on his back. Somehow I missed that before now. And yet, I don’t feel in danger. Quite the opposite in fact.

JOSEPH: What were you doing in that caravan?

JAKE: Is that what you call them? Caravans?

JOSEPH: Mhm.

JAKE: Honestly, I don’t know. I just woke up there. I don’t know how I got there or where I am…..

JOSEPH: … No one sent you?

The question makes me wonder what is going on in this strange man’s life. 

JAKE: No… No one sent me. I’m sorry… I don’t know how I got there. 

After a moment of thought he says:

JOSEPH: Do you mind if I record our conversation?

He shows me his little recorder he’s got in his pocket. Just seeing it sets off a firework inside my mind.

JOSEPH [concerned]: Are you okay?

JAKE: Er . . . Yeah. Sorry about that. Seeing that device, it . . . Jogged my memory. And yes, feel free to record. I’m . . . I’m actually recording too. 

I reach into my pocket and pull out my phone. The one that hasn’t needed a charge in a really long time and is just permanently set to recording and uploading now. And this realization, like the others, just comes to me, from nowhere. I show Joseph my phone. His eyes widen so much I think they might fall out of his head. Then he’s up out of his seat, looking through his books around the room. Checking one pile, then another, not finding the specific title he’s looking for. Then he does find it, flips it open, and starts leafing through pages until he finds what he wants. He shows me what he was looking for. 

The book looks old. Downright ancient. Definitely a collectible. He’s pointing to an illustration. It’s a picture of something that looks like my phone, well technically it’s two pictures: one of the front side and one of the back.

JOSEPH: According to this illustration, it’s a mobile PID?

JAKE [uncertain]: Yeah?

JOSEPH: We have a  . . . Good amount of tech here on Oasus, but I never expected to see one of these working.

He stares at me intensely.

[KETTLE BOILING SOUND]

The sound breaks the moment and Joseph gets up to make the tea. I’m not sure what to think about all this, and what he’s told me so far.

He doesn’t take very long and then he’s back handing me a steaming mug. I can see through to the bottom of the ceramic mug, so I’m guessing it’s some sort of herbal tea. I know it’s gonna burn my lips but I take a sip anyway, just to taste something.

It does burn, but in a way that lets me know this is a normal reaction to something. That things are running okay. Since it feels like the complete opposite for me since I regained consciousness in the dark room of that RV, this is a welcome pain. 

The flavor is full and a little bitter, and very enjoyable.

JAKE: Thank you. It’s great. So where the hell am I?

He stares at me for a moment.

JOSEPH: You really don’t know do you? Do you know of “Oasus”?

I shake my head.

JOSEPH: Okay. You should know this…. But all the people that you’ve seen here today. We’re descendants. Long ago, many, many hundreds of cycles, humanity left Earth and eventually discovered this planet. One ship crashed, killing everyone. The other two survived and the people inside created a settlement here. They called this world Oasus.

I have many thoughts flooding my mind now, almost drowning me. 

JAKE: I . . . I am from Earth.

JOSEPH: Yes. You have to be. You look human. Like us.

JAKE: No. I mean, I live on Earth. That’s where I’m from.

Joseph’s eyes widen again. He’s truly shocked this time.

JOSEPH: I don’t know how that can possibly be. What stims have you been taking?

JAKE: I’m serious. I don’t know how to explain it but I swear to you. 

Joseph stares at me for an uncomfortable moment and lets out an “ok”. I’m not sure if he believes me or wants to hear the rest of the story.

[HAVE JOSEPH SAY “OKAY” TO RUN IN THE BACKGROUND OF THIS NARRATION] 

JAKE: I have no clue why I’m here. For what purpose? How did I get here?

JOSEPH: How would I know?

JAKE: I don’t…. Wait a moment. If Oasus has been settled, why do you keep moving?

JOSEPH [CONFUSED]: We are always moving. We have to. Because of the darkness.

A heavy weight suddenly forms in my (gut?); a black hole that feels like it’s sucking everything in. I’m instantly covered in sweat, and I start to shake a little. 

I speak the two words, but they barely come out in a whisper.

JAKE [WHISPERING]: The blackness . . .

JOSEPH: We call it the darkness. It came from beyond this world, some time after humanity arrived here. There’s a great cleaving in the earth that shows where it hit. And from it came the darkness. Anyone who’s caught by it . . . Is dead. Disappears. Is never seen again. No one knows exactly what the darkness does to you, because no one has ever survived.

JAKE: The darkness . . .

The memories continue to come, even stronger now with this new trigger.

[SHORT PAUSE]

JAKE: I have to face it.

JOSEPH [incredulous confusion]: What? No…

And then I hear calls from outside, people making announcements. The sounds of people getting ready.

JOSEPH: It’s time to get moving again. We’ve spent enough time resting. The caravan needs to get moving.

I stare Joseph in the eyes and then give him a resigned look. I put the mug of half-drunk tea gently down.

JAKE: Thank you for the tea and the hospitality. You’ve been very helpful. 

He catches on a few seconds too late, and by then I’ve got the door open and I’m outside and running. I hear him calling behind me.

JOSEPH [YELLING]: Jake! Stop! This is madness!

[SPOKEN SHORT OF BREATH AS JAKE’S RUNNING:] I know it is, but at the same time I know it’s something I have to do. I can see it now. The darkness . . . The blackness. In the very distance. Slowly but surely coming. Coming for these people.

Coming for me.

I run faster toward it. I look back and see Joseph starting to chase me in his small vehicle from earlier, but he’s stopped by a small group of people shouting and gesturing. He’s angry and sad at the same time. I hope he won’t dwell on me too long. I keep running, feeling my breathing coming fast, my heart pumping. It takes a long while, but I manage. I pass countless other vehicles and people. Most stare but none try to stop me. I don’t know how long I run, but I keep going until my legs are numb. It feels like the closer I get to the blackness, the faster it comes. I dont realize when it happens but suddenly I notice that the sound of people and engines are no longer around me. I’ve ran past them all. Then my strength is sapped. I sit down, almost falling. I wait a while. A long while. For the blackness to come and take me once more. I hear a strange and frightening noise. The noise of a thousand movements and murmurs at once. It’s a cacophony of wet flesh and snarling sounds. 

What is it? 

I don’t care.

I’m ready for it.

Then it is just before me. 

Then it is enveloping me.

And everything goes black . . .


EPISODE 40 – LAST ACCIDENTAL HERO (PART TWO)

[MONICA:]

I regain consciousness to pain. Only in certain parts of my body. My arms. My thighs. The side of my face. Okay. It’s localized. Localized to . . . The parts of me that are on the ground. What the fuck happened? Oh yeah, I dove through that rift and I didn’t know if I was ever going to open my eyes again.

I slowly do and everything is hazy at first. Parts of me are hurting because I landed and am laying on them. Plus it’s a gravel floor which is not helping. I gingerly pick myself up. The hurting parts start hurting less. Good. It wasn’t serious. Maybe a few scrapes and bruises, but nothing major.

Now, where the hell am I?

It’s dark. Not completely dark. Not full dark. But dark like the inside of a closet. Gonna need to give it some time to let my eyes adjust. Good. That’s a little better. I can see shapes now . . .

What the hell is this? I feel like I’m in that crazy eighties movie . . . Oh, what was it . . . Tron! There’s glowy outlines everywhere. But it’s not like I’m in some crazy computer game or a bizarre future. It’s . . . It’s Ostium. I see streets and buildings. But it’s like at night. When everything’s turned off. Except for the strange florescent outline around anything.

So it’s . . . Ostium Tron.

Okay then.

[PAUSE]

[JAKE]

Oh my god it hurts. Everywhere. More than it should. What happened to me? I was . . . I was dealing with whatever the fuck was coming through  that rift and . . . And then those hideous arms came out and grabbed me. The sizzling got louder. Everything got incredibly hot and loud . . . And then . . . And then . . . I blacked out.

And now I’m here.

I can tell it’s Ostium. That other Ostium. The one that was dark and with the weird glowing outlines. The one Steve was in, when he met that thing. He said he thought it was female, but it completely terrified him. I’m pretty sure that’s what was trying to break through those rifts each time. Come through to the Ostium Network and where we were. Was it coming for us? All of us? Or was it about the place? The Ostium Network? Did it want to get there? Did it know there was no one else there? That it was a place ripe for the taking? Or was it after Zhang? Or the whole quantum computing system they’ve got there?

Speaking of which: where the hell is it? I’m in a . . . Room. I think it’s a room. I can see the outline of four walls. And there’s the outline for a door.

Just tried opening it . . . No luck. The handle won’t even turn. So I’m guessing that thing put me here. Dumped me here . . . And left? Why? What did it want with me? If it wanted me and took me, why has it just abandoned me here? Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy to be alive right now. I’m just . . . Very confused.

So instead of trying to work out what the hell it was and why it’s gone away now, or why I’m in a lot of pain . . . I’m just going to delve into why I think it was coming after us. Yes. That’s what I believe now. I don’t think it was trying to get to the Ostium Network. Maybe . . . Before we arrived it was. Because I hadn’t pissed it off then.

Please allow me to explain . . .

This thing . . . I’m not going to call it a she or a he or a crone or anything . . . I just don’t know at this point, and from what I have gathered it’s clearly not human and attaching any sort of gender to it seems pointless right now. I’m just going to call it that: it. This thing feeds off of energy. Power. Or it needs it at least. Probably as food. Sustenance. Like any entity be it an atomic particle or a blue whale or a goddamn black hole. It needs to feed or it dies . . . Ceases to exist. And please, don’t bring antimatter into this right now. I don’t know yet where it came from or how it came to be . . . Anything like that . . . But it was coming along and saw Steve and wanted to feed. That’s why it came after him. It didn’t get him. It was still hungry. It saw him go through a door. Maybe it tried some doors. Maybe it tried all the doors . . . None of them opened. So then it tried making it’s own door. Opening a hole in reality to somewhere else. Somewhere not here. Just like I’ve done a couple times now. It takes a lot of energy. A hell of a lot of energy. But I’ve only just started doing it, so maybe it’s like your alcohol tolerance . . . Stay with me here . . . The more you drink, the stronger your tolerance gets. The more ostiums you open and create, the better you get at doing it, and maybe it requires a little less energy each time. A little less of your life-force, so you’re not left unconscious afterward.

And that’s when it started punching holes through to the Ostium Network. Maybe it’s been punching lots and lots of holes to different times. Different Ostium Networks? Different iterations of it . . . Different tangents . . . Maybe it has something to do with the blackness and all the shit that’s been happening to us since Monica and I have been going through the doors of Ostium.

Yeah. That makes my head hurt too. You’re not alone there. I’m going to back off of that thought path for a bit. Put a pin in it, as they say. Yes. It’s a possibility, and we’re going to leave it at that for now.

I’m also pretty certain that whatever took over Steve and controlled him . . . Using the gun to kill those people . . . The ones that we were eventually able to save . . . It was all the same thing controlling him. And since we were able to stop it from controlling him and killing them, as well as doing the whole fucked-up Saw movie at the Fort Bragg house, it’s all been sort of reset. Steve has control once again over his faculties and is his own person. I don’t know if he realizes this. Need to tell him the next time I see him . . .

If I ever get to see him again . . .

[Short pause]

I think it’s after me. I know . . . I know! You think I’m reading too much into this. You’re thinking: Jake, get off your fucking high horse and take a step back for a minute. But . . . As the old saying that I don’t where the hell it came from goes: hold the phone! I’m the one who opened the ostium and helped all those people escape. I’m the one who seriously changed its plans, at least in this timeline. So I can only come to the conclusion that I’m the one it’s really pissed at. I stole its chance at sucking up a          beaucoup amount of energy and life-force, so now it’s coming after my ass. Makes sense. It came through to the place in Fort Bragg. Saw what I did. It came after us like a bat out of hell. I just managed to get us out before it got us. It . . . Fucking terrified both of us. And we just made it out alive.

It clearly wasn’t happy. Maybe it was able to tell where I went, where the ostium led to . . . The particular Ostium Network I ended up in. Maybe I left a metaphysical – or ectoplasmic – trail of breadcrumbs for it to follow and find me. Because ever since we got to that Ostium Network the rift sites have been coming sure and steady.

And then I tried to face off with it. Not knowing what it was, but maybe on some level I knew exactly what it was, but I had to face it to protect Monica and Steve and Zhang and I scared it at little. Doing that thing with my hands. And whatever that white stuff was that came out . . . Yeah, that sounds kind of wrong, but that’s what happened. I could make an ectoplasmic joke here, but I’m just not gonna, not with a ten-foot . . . Pole.

But it stopped it. Just for a moment. Made it pull back. Withdraw into its own space. And then . . . Then it saw who I was and grabbed me.

And that was the end of that.

And now I’m here. Wherever here is. Trapped in this room. Waiting, I guess . . . Waiting for it to come back and tear me limb from limb.

So basically the opposite of Beowulf waiting for Grendel.

And now I hear something coming.

It’s coming for me, no doubt.

Fucking great.

[PAUSE]

[MONICA:]

I’m on the move. Don’t know where I am. Not sure where I’m headed. But I’m on the move. Military doctrine says to not stay put, to keep your boots moving, no matter . . . Yeah, you already know all that army talk was bullshit so I’ll just move right along. Literally! I know that thing’s gotta be here somewhere. The thing that got Jake. The thing that was chasing Steve, and then both of them before. The thing that scared the crap out of them before they literally dove through a door Jake made and saved their asses. It grabbed him and for all I know ripped his head off like tearing the cover off a book. No biggie, minimum effort. But I really don’t want to think about that right now. I can’t hear anyone or anything else around. Nothing sounds like it’s moving around here at the moment. So either it’s feeding on Jake somewhere, or it’s stashed him and is slowly coming for me. Neither situation is good for me, or for Jake. I guess the last one actually is ideal for him, so I’m just going to assume it at the moment. Assume Jake’s alive and that the thing is now looking for my ass. Yeah, I know what they say when you assume. But I gotta work with what positives I can here. It got him, stuck him somewhere, somehow knew I came through, and is now out for my blood.

[Jokingly/Half-heartedly] Woo-hoo.

So that’s why I gotta keep moving. I stop every couple minutes or so. Listening. Waiting . . . Perhaps waiting for the inevitable. But I did what I had to do. I wasn’t going to let him dive into this thing head first by himself. Risk his life again and leave me waiting and wondering. No fucking way. I’ve also got another card up my sleeve. A certain kickass little gun. Yeah, I know you’re yelling: “Well, how fucking convenient she should be carrying that right now, in this precarious situation, when she really fucking needs it.” But here’s the thing. Ever since I left Ostium through that crazy tiny pantry door I’ve been carrying that piece. Haven’t left it at my place at any point. It’s been in easy reach in a pocket or tucked into my pants the whole time. Because since then I haven’t known what’s going to happen next for a single moment, so I’ve always been prepared. When I dove through that rift I wasn’t thinking, aw, shucks, too bad I didn’t bring that little ass-kicker, or geez, sure happy I packed that piece today. It’s been in my possession the whole time, and for good reason. Haven’t had to use it yet; haven’t needed to. But I’m sure as fucking happy I’m carrying it now. And yeah, that’s right, it’s in my hand; the safety’s off, and is ready to zap anything that comes at me. I’m ready as fuck to face down this thing, whatever the fuck it is.

So I keep stopping. Waiting. Getting ready for something to come out of nowhere and then be right in my face. And then I turn down a street and sorta recognize myself. Yeah, I know, in this place it’s next to impossible. All the buildings look sort of the same, and there are no numbers. But I’m remembering the shape of the road; the way the streets go off it and at which points. Something in my head is making sense of it. So I go with it, trusting my intuition, like Jakey so often likes to do. I turn down a street, then make a right turn down the next, as soon as I can. Then I’m running down that street straight to the clock tower. Door number one. Except there’s no number on it. And here, in this fucked up alternate Ostium, the actual clock tower just reaches up into the darkness and I can’t see the top. It just sort of  . . . disappears. Great. That’s real comforting.

Then I’m at the door, gun held to the side of my head. Trying to steady my breath and listening again. I’m looking back behind me, not moving. Trying to take it all in without giving away my position. And then I see movement. Something is out there. Looking for me, I’m guessing. It could be looking for Jake too, but since it grabbed him and dragged him into this place, it doesn’t seem likely.

I can’t hear it, but I can see it moving. It’s too far away. But then I hear it speak. It instantly raises goosebumps all over my body.

CREATURE: Where are you . . . Little one. I know you came through. I can . . . Smell you . . . I can . . . Feel you. I’m coming . . . For you.

Then it moves out of sight. I wait. I hear no more words of encouragement. Good. That’s my cue.

I turn the handle and step inside the clock tower, no clue what I’m gonna find on the other side.

[PAUSE]

[JAKE:]

I look at my surroundings. I don’t have much space in here, but it’s what I’ve got to work with. I move all the way to the back wall, farthest away from the door. I could try hiding behind the door as it opens, but that thing is going to just know and it’s not going to help at all. At least this way I’ve got a couple extra seconds as it comes at my throat, after dealing with whatever it’s been doing since it left me here. I’ve got no weapons. Nothing to protect myself with. Just my bare hands . . . And my feet. Let’s not forget I can deliver a mean kick when I mean to. Didn’t do all that soccer in high school for nothing.

I watch the handle as it turns and tense up, ready to launch myself at it. Those extra few seconds may mean the difference between life and death for me.

The door swings open and I let fly!

MONICA: JAKE!?

I twist away and face-plant into the wall. It’s not fun, let me tell you. I peel myself off the black stone and look at my visitor.

JAKE: Monica!? What the hell are you doing here?

MONICA: Happy to see you too, soldier.

JAKE: Er . . . Sorry, I’m happy to see you. Genuinely. I just . . .

MONICA: Never expected to see me again? Alive?

JAKE: Er . . . Yeah, kinda.

MONICA: Thought you could pull the old Mulder trick one more time?

JAKE: Huh? Oh . . . You mean leaving you back there?

MONICA: Yep. Kinda want to smack you upside the head right now for that.

JAKE: That’s . . . Totally warranted. But I don’t think that would be the best decision right now.

MONICA: Why? Because we’ve got that fucked up thing coming for us?

JAKE: Yeah, sure. But also because I know it’d really hurt.

MONICA: Also true. How do you wanna play this?

JAKE: Play . . . This?

MONICA [unimpressed]: What’s your plan, braniac, for taking down the big beastie?

JAKE: Er . . . I . . . I don’t really know. I was going to face it and . . . Do whatever came naturally.

MONICA: Were you going to try to talk sense into it? Talk it down from ripping out your throat?

JAKE: Yeah, sure . . . Maybe . . .

MONICA: Fucking typical!

JAKE: But I was also going to try to do something . . . With my hands. Like I did before. When I made it stop.

MONICA: Yeah. I saw that. It looked like some Gandalf badassery. Pretty impressive. You think you’ve got enough in you to do it all again and put a stop to it?

JAKE: I don’t know. All I can do is try.

MONICA: Yep. That’s right. Fortunately, I’ve got this nifty gun to help out.

JAKE: Is that like the one Steve was using before when he was going through the doors after those men?

MONICA: I think it’s crazier than that. I think it is the exact gun, and somehow we now have two of them. I don’t really get it. It’s all timey-wimey stuff, right?

JAKE: Sure. But I’m glad you’ve got it. And . . . I’m glad you’re here with me right now. To face down this thing.

MONICA: Awww, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. Thank you, Jakey. It was on my tail before and I think it’s about to arrive. You ready?

JAKE [breath]: As ready as I’ll ever be.

[PAUSE]

CREATURE: I have . . . Arrived . . . Come meet me . . . My pretties.

[MONICA:]

We step out of the dark room into another dark room. But it’s all really familiar to me: the rooms of the clock tower, where Jake and I have spent a lot of time. And then just me by my lonesome. Seeing it in this darkness; it’s still really disturbing. Just ain’t right. And then there’s the thing standing before us in the doorway. That also ain’t right. On a major fucking level. I think Steve was right: it is female. Or some sort of female, but definitely not of the normal human variety. It’s hunched over; frail and decrepit. But I know this is part of its act. It’s smoke-screen. It’s subterfuge. It wants you to think it’s old and weak and helpless. That it needs you to help.

All the better to get you with its big sharp teeth . . .

I ain’t falling for that shit. Jake isn’t either. He’s standing next to me; arms at his side; hands splayed open, ready to try and do whatever it is he did before.

I told Jake one last thing before we stepped out of the other room: follow my lead.

The gun is held by my side. The thing is looking at us. It lifts its arms a little. The jaws open, as it begins to talk. A single word comes out:

CREATURE: Thank . . .

Then I whip up the gun and shoot it in the face.

Jake is there, my partner in crime, raising his hands and willing them to do what they did before. The white mist appears and shoots toward the thing. It’s bright and vibrant in this dark place and feels . . . Comforting. And again . . . Badass.

The thing is pushed back. This two-pronged attack has taken a toll. It drops down to one of its knees. The soiled cloak it wears hiding its lower form. I assume it has knees. We watch and wait. It stays that way for ten . . . Twenty . . . Thirty seconds, then slowly stands back up again.

I fire again and Jake follows up. Same attack. Same amount of power. This time there’s a different result. The thing doesn’t drop down. It pulls back a little, hunching into itself, then straightens once more. The attack didn’t take as much of a toll this time.

Shit.

We need to hit it with something stronger. But what?

And then a thought comes to me. A totally, fucking stupid thought. But . . . What have we got to lose at this point?

MONICA: Jake?

JAKE: Yeah Monica?

MONICA: We need to do something.

JAKE: Yeah, but what?

MONICA: We need to . . . Cross the streams.

JAKE: What? . . . Oh! But how?

Now I look at him. Not giving a shit about that thing before us trying to end out lives.

MONICA: Follow. My. Lead.

I snap my head back at it and start pumping the trigger, firing repeated blasts into its form. As I do this, I side-step closer and closer to Jake. He gets the idea real quick, his hands raised; the white whateverness spilling out his fingertips like you know what. Soon we’re touching each others’ sides, bringing out hands closer.

Jake brings his palms together forming an arrowhead. The expelling beam becomes thicker and more solid; more defined.

Then Jake’s beam and my laser blasts do the impossible, but exactly what I hoped: they connect, then wrap around each other, forming a blasting braid. It’s . . . Pretty fucking awesome.

This new beam is stronger and brighter and just kicks the shit out of the thing.

We keep it going for a whole other minute and then I stop. Jake does the same. The silence is very noticeable.

The thing is on the ground. Smoldering. Smoke comes off it in small columns. The smell is . . . Soot and cinnamon, with a hint of . . . Rosemary? What the fuck?

We slowly walk toward it. Not the best move, I know. But we need to be sure we stopped it. We need to be sure it’s dead.

We reach it, and I’m stopped in my tracks. Jake is too.

[CRYING SOUNDS]

It’s . . . Shaking. Shaking because . . . It’s crying. The sounds are definitely feminine. It’s a girl crying. Sobbing.

I should think this a trap. A ploy with its last ounce of strength to get back at us. But . . . No. The sounds, the emotion. It’s all so real. What she’s been through . . . It’s too much.

She never deserved this.

I don’t know where this thought came from, but it feels right. It feels true. This creature is a young girl and she’s been through so much and hasn’t deserved any of it.

I look to Jake and see tears on his cheeks.

JAKE: You’re crying.

My eyes widen in shock.

MONICA: I am? You are too.

He touches his face and seems just as surprised as I am.

Then we look to her. She’s speaking words now. The words of a young woman. But ragged, strangled Such . . . Sad . . . Words.

CREATURE: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. For everything I’ve done. So, so, so sorry.

MONICA: We can’t leave her here.

JAKE: What?

I don’t know if he didn’t hear me, didn’t understand what I said, or just wasn’t willing to comprehend.

MONICA: We can’t leave her here.

He looks at her for a while and then at me. Weighing. Deciding.

JAKE: Are you sure?

MONICA [breath]: No. I’m not fucking sure. But I know it’s not right to leave her here. Like us, she has a story. I feel something happened to her. For her to end up like this. We owe it to her to help her. To give her another chance. Just like I gave you another chance, and you gave me another chance . . .

JAKE: And Steve got another chance.

MONICA: Yes . . .

JAKE: Okay. [Accepting] Okay. Shall I . . . Carry her?

MONICA: No. I’ll do it. She can’t weigh much, anyway I’m stronger than you. But I need you to open an ostium and get us back to Steve and Zhang and our world there.

JAKE: Right.

I throw the woman over my shoulder. It feels like I’ve tossed a wet raincoat over my back. Barely anything. We step outside the clock tower into the street. I look to Jake, he nods. This’ll work for him. I wait for him to do his magic.

[PAUSE]

[JAKE:]

I’m so fucking tired. I can barely stand up. That power, that life-force I shot out has left me an empty husk. But I don’t have a choice. I have to do this. For Monica. For that thing . . . No, that woman. She deserves just as much of a chance as the rest of us.

We’re outside now, and I debate leaning against the black wall, but I don’t. I don’t want to show Monica how exhausted I am. I’ll just worry her. I’ll do what I always do: I’ll make it work.

I have to.

I take three deep breaths, then close my eyes and imagine the Ostium Network. Our Ostium Network. With Steve there, and Zhang. And our apartments. Our few personal things we’ve started accruing. The familiar feel of the place I’ve come to know. It’s a lot easier this time than last. I let those thoughts and feelings flow through me. Enhancing the image of place in my mind, giving it life and substance.

Another breath and then I . . . Open the ostium.

My eyes spring open and I see the doorway before me. It’s not huge. An oval with shaky edges that bend in and out. It’s not great. Not impressive at all. But . . . It’s enough.

JAKE: You first. With the woman. I’ll be right behind you.

Monica looks at me. Thinking. Weighing her options. Wanting to send me in first. She’s seen through my facade and knows I can barely hold myself up. But she’s got the woman. She doesn’t have a choice.

JAKE: Don’t worry. I’ll be right behind you. I promise.

MONICA: Okay.

Then she looks me right in the eye.

MONICA: You better fucking be.

I can’t help snorting. This helps.

Then she leans in and gives me a quick kiss.

She turns and slides through the haphazard ostium. I watch and wait, making sure both of them get through with no problem. Then they’re gone and it’s just me.

I take a few breaths, then will my aching legs to move and shuffle myself to the ostium. It’s damn hard. I’ve got to keep it solid in my head, and do this whole walking and going through it thing. It seems too much. Not just one thing too much. Two things too much. Why do they both have to be so hard? I shouldn’t have to do either. I should be able just to go back into the clock tower and sleep. Sure. Why not. It’s right there. It’s all black and weird, but there’s a floor. I can sleep on the floor. In fact . . . I can sleep on this floor right under my feet. I can just collapse on down until there’s no more falling and then I can close my eyes and just sleep for . . .

No! No. I can’t do that. I need to get through the ostium. The image in my head has grown hazy, almost blurry. I force it to snap back, but it’s not perfect. Sort of there and sort of not there at the same time. But I’m completely out of juice and it’s the best I can do right now. The ostium is still in front of me. Just a couple steps to go. I force one leg in front of the other. It’s like lifting concrete. But I get it done. And then I’m there. I can’t quite make out what’s on the other side. It looks right. It matches what’s in my head. But it’s also kinda of fuzzy. Unclear. And then with my last ounce of strength I lean forward and fall through the ostium.

[PAUSE]

[MONICA:]

We’re through. Both of us. I’m on my knees, and I lay the woman down softly. She’s barely moving, but she’s breathing. That’s good enough. I get back up and look back at the ostium . . .

. . . And watch it close up. Gone. Nothing. And no Jake came through.

The tears spring to my eyes again. And then they’re running down my cheeks. Then I’m yelling a bad word at the sky.

FUCK!

STEVE: Mum, is that you? Are you back? Are you and Jake back?

MONICA: Yes . . . And no. I’m back. I brought her back. To help her. But Jake . . . Jake . . . Jakey didn’t make it back.

It’s all I can say. I drop the datapad to the ground.

Then I’m by the woman, lifting her up. Shaking her awake. She’s barely conscious. But reacting a little. I slap her face twice: one side, then the other. This does the trick and her eyes spring open. She’s not really aware of where she is, or who she is it seems.

  1. Don’t. Give. A. Fuck.

MONICA: I need you to get him back! I need you to get him here right the fuck now!

She stares at me, confused.

MONICA: Do what you need to do and get him here. Now!

Then her eyes clear a little. She looks at me. Then she looks at the spot where the ostium was before. She looks around. She understands. She looks back at me, scared. Finally, she speaks.

WOMAN: I . . . I can’t. I don’t know . . .

MONICA: You do! You do know how! You did it! Lots of fucking times.

WOMAN: No . . . I don’t know where he is.

MONICA: He’s back in that fucked up place we all were before.

WOMAN: No. I feel that place. He’s not there anymore. He’s gone from there.

MONICA: Then where the fuck is he?!

She looks back to where the ostium was. Shakes her head in that same way again: to one side, then the other.

WOMAN [Quietly]: I. Don’t. Know.

MONICA: Fuck!

I’m up. Walking around. Wanting to do something. Then I stare at the same spot she kept staring at. Thinking. I look up to the top of the rock. Where I know Steve is. My son. Talking to Zhang. Trying to find out what the hell is going on here.

MONICA: I gotta do it. I can’t just leave him.

I turn back to the woman.

MONICA: Do it! Open an ostium!

WOMAN: A what?

MONICA: A fucking door. Open one up!

WOMAN: To where?

MONICA: I don’t care. Anywhere. Anywhen. Just do it.

WOMAN: Why?

This time I pull the little gun on her.

MONICA: Just. Fucking. Do. It!

WOMAN: I . . . I don’t know if I can.

MONICA [Anguish, pleading]: Just. Try!

She nods. She turns. And then there’s a look of incredible pain and sadness on her face. I can barely watch, then I can’t. I turn to the space we’ve both been looking at and I see an ostium start to open. Small at first. The size of a dinner plate. I walk up to it. It starts to grow. When it gets to the size of a tire, it’s good enough. I turn back to her.

MONICA: Thank you.

Then I dive through the ostium and I don’t care where or when I end up.

No matter what it takes.

No matter how long it takes.

I’m going to find Jake.

And I’m going to bring him back.

EPISODE 39 – LAST ACCIDENTAL HERO (PART ONE)

[JAKE:]

Dave . . . No, Steve’s on his way to bed. Long earned. Well deserved. The guy’s been through a lot. A hell of a lot, even by Ostium standards. I feel for the guy, I really do. But that story . . . Of what happened to him, when he fell through Ostium . . . When he fell through time. It’s beyond incredible. Almost beyond believable. But after everything that’s happened to me . . . Everything that’s happened to us. I can’t help but believe.

MONICA [First word drawn out]: Fuck . . . What a story.

JAKE: It’s hard to believe. Hard to take all in.

MONICA: Yeah. But is it true? Or is he just lying through his teeth.

I look at her, disbelief on my face.

JAKE: How can it not be? We’ve all seen so much more that any normal person would think impossible . . . Supernatural. And yet we all believe.

MONICA: Do we? Well, I know you do. I’ve seen a lot of things. A lot of shit. And I’m not sure what I believe. Even after everything. It’s a lot to take in. But that story is just another part of it. Far fetched doesn’t begin to cover it.

JAKE: But he told it with such . . . Empathy. I felt for him. He really believed it. Wholeheartedly.

MONICA: Okay. Fuck. You got me there. He really believed it. But it was the details. They were so close to the truth but it still wasn’t what actually happened.

JAKE: Like what?

MONICA: Like . . . Kahling and Tanaka. Though according to Steve it’s Keelin and Takaya. Awfully close. But not quite.

JAKE: Okay, anything else?

MONICA: You heard my recordings. You know my story. My history. My fucking origin story. How I found Steve. A tiny baby in that development I was working on. And here he tells us he falls through time – a crack in Ostium – and arrives on a building site, naked as a babe and not remembering who he is. But he’s still a grown man. Again: close, but no fucking cigar.

JAKE: Yeah, that’s pretty fucking weird. But what about the details that don’t add up?

MONICA: You mean like his foster parents ‘mysteriously’ disappearing?

JAKE: Sure. And that’s keeping in line with his early Enigmatic Mysteries of the Unknown recordings.

MONICA: Fine. Whatever. But the year. He said it so confidently. Without fucking question. 1999.

JAKE: [Drawn out, in shock]: Yeah . . .

MONICA: It doesn’t fit with either of our timelines. It’s significantly before yours, and way the fuck before mine. It’s totally separate. His own fucking timeline.

I stop and look at her, not fully sure if she realizes what’s going on here. If she understands what she’s saying.

JAKE: But what is it, Monica? It is his own timeline.

MONICA: What? What the fuck does that mean? He’s my son.

JAKE: Yes. He is your son. Only he’s a son to a different you. His timeline is different from yours. Just like this timeline of Gibraltar, or the Ostium Network is different from ours. From mine. And from yours. They’re all separate tangents that flow along parallel lines, and at specific points along the way have crossed over. Some have continued on their own trajectories, and some have converged, to form two timelines, and then one. The one we’re in right now.

MONICA: Are you saying what I think you’re saying?

JAKE: If you’re thinking that each of us is one of three separate timelines that have now converged into this timeline of this Ostium Network . . . Then yes.

[Short pause]

MONICA: I suppose you want me to use a witty Back to the Future reference here?

JAKE [Snort]: It couldn’t hurt.

MONICA: Fuck you.

[Short pause]

JAKE [Arrogantly]: You’re just not thinking . . .

MONICA: Don’t. Fucking. Say it.

[PAUSE]

[JAKE:]

It’s a new day. Fresh and clear and goddamn beautiful. Blue skies; warm sunshine. One of those days where the last thing in the world you want to do is sequester yourself inside an office and work. It’s all about hitting the warm sands of your favorite beach, or enjoying a big outdoor lunch with friends. Or just getting the fuck away from everything to try and clear your mind.

Yeah, that’s about where I’m at right now. I feel like I need a month of personal introspection to process everything that’s happened just in the last few days. It’s been . . . So much, in so little time. That’s why I’m out here, hanging out in a distant part of the rock, all by myself.

This is also where the first explosion happened. The first mighty crack of thunder. The first rip . . . a tear through reality that killed a bunch of people. At least that’s what Zhang said. She said I wouldn’t find anything, no evidence or anything of use, but I need to make sure. With cameras everywhere, I get that, but I need to see for myself. And to get that alone time too.

We had a quick discussion this morning over breakfast about what to do next. They both looked at me like I had all the answers. I know I’m . . . Different now. Changed after what happened to me with the blackness, with the inner workings of Ostium. But that doesn’t mean I have all the answers.

Yes. I know I may have said I get it all now. I know the answers. And I do know some. But there’s still a lot I don’t know. I was speaking in hyperbole. Yep. Shocking. I know. I think it might the first time in my life. So . . . Sorry for that.

I said the first thing . . . It just popped in there. No. Not the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man. The places where the explosions happened. The rift sites, as I’m calling them. And it was totally true. I wanted to check them out. Check them all out. We needed to wrap our minds around what the hell was going on here. It was getting worse. More violent. More extreme. The shit was going to hit the fan soon and if we weren’t on top of things we were going to be little more than innocent bystanders. Yeah. Pretty dramatic I know, but I also know whatever’s making those rips through reality isn’t fucking around. And doesn’t care about taking lives.

And Zhang’s totally right. There’s nothing here. Nothing useful. I can’t see signs of anything. It happened days ago and looks like whatever wounds were made in this reality have long-ago healed. But . . . Not all of them. There are still some scars here . . . Even if I can’t see them. I can feel them. There’s a tension here. A confluence of energy that can only be felt. Sensed. What’s that French word? Oh yeah . . . frissonBeacoup de frisson going on right here. I can’t tell, but it almost feels like my hair might be standing on end.

Something happened here. Undoubtedly. Something big.

Okay, time to check on the rest of the team.

I take out my datapad and open up a channel. I think about holding it up to my ear, but that feels way too weird. I don’t need to anyway. I hold it a foot or so from my face and start talking.

JAKE: Er . . . Hey team, Jake here. Just wanted to check in with everyone. I’m at my appointed location. Just wanted to get the sitrep. Over.

MONICA: What the fuck are you playing at, Jakey. This isn’t the front lines. You’re not a fucking soldier.

JAKE: I dunno. There’s some crazy shit going on here. Feels pretty much like the front lines to me.

MONICA: Look: just don’t. Okay?

STEVE: Oh, give it a rest mum. He’s just trying to have some fun. I can’t blame him. I’m all ensconced here at HQ with Zhang. All systems working nominally here. Over!

MONICA: Jeez, you guys. Okay. Whatever. I’m at the second rift site. Just like Zhang said, there’s nothing really here. No evidence I can see . . .

JAKE: But . . . It sounds like there’s a but there, Monica?

MONICA: Okay, fine. There is a but. But . . . It just feels weird here. I don’t know what it is. Like the air. Feels tense. Constrained. Like some shit went down. Some really. Bad. Shit.

JAKE: I hear ya, Monica. I got the same vibes here. But nothing that catches the eye. Let’s move on to the next locations. Zhang will upload the next rift sites for us.

MONICA: Roger th . . . Goddammit. Now you’ve got me doing it. Fine! I’m on my way.

JAKE: Roger, roger. Over and out!

I put the datapad away to the sounds of Monica unloading with a bunch of expletives and Steve just laughing. It feels good. This feels right. It’s serious, but we’re taking it easy too. Gotta have some levity here or we’re just gonna lose our fucking minds.

[PAUSE]

The rest of the day is uneventful. We continue checking the sites all around the rock. It takes time. It’s boring. But we do it. I . . . No, we need to do it. To learn all we can. At our morning meeting, Steve decided he wanted to hang out with Zhang at the viewing tower on top of the rock. He’s pretty computer savvy and wanted to be available for any necessary computering, as he put it. Don’t really know if there’s anything Zhang can’t accomplish without him or me or anyone for that matter. But whatever. He’s comfortable up there, and we’re cool with that. It’s a case of respecting everyone’s wishes. And that’s what we’re going with right now.

Each site is like the last. No signs of disturbance. No evidence. But the impending feeling continues to build. Like you’re walking under power lines that convey feeling more than sound, and just keep getting stronger and stronger at each site. When we get to the last couple sites, we see something concrete for the first time. These are ones that hit . . . Rift sites that opened and closed while we’ve been here and actually heard them. I know my heart started racing when I reached my last one for the day, and I’m sure Monica’s having similar feelings.

MONICA [Anxious]: Okay. At this site I’m actually seeing something for the first time. I’ve got . . . Scorch marks. Lots of scorch marks. It’s like some kid was having fun trying to cut up the ground with a light-saber. I don’t know what the hell went on here. But it was some bad shit. And I can see this like heavy circle of black . . . I don’t know why I said heavy, it’s just a lot thicker than the scorch marks. And it’s like the closer I get, the stronger the feeling of something pushing me down is. I swear I can hear some sizzling. Like static electricity. It’s giving me the fucking creeps. The black circle . . . It’s like way blacker that anything else . . . Blacker than I knew black could get. I’m . . . I’m pretty freaked out right now.

STEVE: Bloody hell, mum, I think it’s time to about-face and get the fuck out of there.

JAKE: Seconded! You’ve found out all you can. And it’s incredibly useful. Now get the hell out of there.

MONICA: No problem. You don’t need to tell me twice. I’m gone!

[Short pause]

[JAKE:]

I get this thorough and disturbing report before I’ve reached my final site. It makes me wary . . . No. It makes me scared. I’ve  been on edge all day. Ever since we concluded our meeting and started heading out. And now . . . Now I think I’m actually shaking a little.

Okay Jake. Let’s take a deep breath and get this shit done!

The first thing I notice are the scorch marks. Just like Monica said. There’s a lot of them. All haphazard and in strange directions. There’s no rhyme or reason to them. It’s like someone was working with some futuristic laser saw that they couldn’t control properly.

I . . . I guess they could be something else. Claw marks. Really deep, gouging claw marks. Of something trying to hold on. Or pulling itself through. From another dimension. And not being quite able to.

[Scared] Fuck.

The tension in the air is like, level ten. The frisson is frissoning the shit out of this place. It’s almost palpable. I’m kind of scared to open my mouth, in case my tongue might get zapped. In my head I can practically see a map of concentric zones of electrical – or is that ectoplasmic – activity. Yeah, sort of like the infrared map, except these are rings of different sizes, with each smaller ring getting stronger. I can feel it pulling me toward the center, to the place where the magic happened. Magic. You might  think that a funny word for it, but it’s not really. Not to me. It’s something I don’t understand. None of us understands it. It’s beyond our comprehension . . . At least right now. Therefore . . . magic. Each step closer makes it harder to take another. It’s pulling me in, but also pushing away. You’d need some serious physicists to figure out the equations and calculations being used right now. And inside myself I’m also feeling plenty of push-pull forces. I want to know what’s going on here. I want to know what’s behind these phenomena and understand it. But I’m almost fucking terrified. I’d much rather turn-tail and head right back to my safe bed behind the protective walls of the apartment I’ve been staying at.

Of course, doing the latter wouldn’t make for much dramatic outcome now, would it?

It’s clearly a lot like the rift site Monica recently saw, just a little more potent, you know? And it already feels like it’s kicked up a notch, but as much as I might like that to be it, I already know it holds more in store for me.

So here goes.

The black grooves in the ground become deep, more ferocious if that makes sense; as if whatever made them had more strength at this point, or a better reach. They’re . . . Angrier. Whatever made them is fucking unhappy it wasn’t able to pull itself through. Some of them are wider than my foot, so I’ve got to watch where I’m walking, to avoid getting a sprained ankle, or maybe a broken one. I’m also noticing that some of the ground here isn’t dirt or soil, but veins – not totally sure if that’s the right word – of solid rock. Basically it’s really, really hard and yet it doesn’t seem to have slowed down the thing that made these vicious claw marks at all. It cut through the stone, gouging a piece of it out, like it was butter, as it cauterized the edges, as evidenced by the black soot and scorch marks.

And then I’m there. In the room where it happened, so to speak. At the point where reality was opened; torn asunder; the boundary between dimensions ripped open like a paper bag. It’s not there anymore. Sealed up. Closed. But I can feel it. And I can see it in my head. A jagged bright yellow line, like a really thin but long lightning bolt. And now that I’m staring at the spot with deep concentration, I can actually fucking see it: the barest hint of a white line in the same shape.

It’s a scar. A scar in the fabric of reality.

Will it ever heal? Disappear and become seamless again? I don’t know.

Before I realize it, my right arm is lifting up, the fingers reaching out to see if it’s a real thing. If I can touch it; find out what it feels like. I can feel it’s warm and before I can stop my fingers touching it there’s a sizzling sound. I yank my arm back and look at my fingertips. The tips of three fingers – the ones that touched the scar – are blackened, red circles around the edges. It feels like I just put my fingertips on a hot frying pan. The pain is instant and sharp, almost unbearable at first, but then begins to let off, and yet still remaining very apparent. It’s going to take a few days to heal.

Well, shit. I won’t be doing that again.

I take a few steps back and crouch down. Alternately blowing on my burned fingertips and cradling the hand against my chest.

I stare at the line for a moment, then close my eyes. The yellow lightning bolt is there. Clearer and brighter. I send out my mental feelers around the scar, doing whatever it is that I do when I’m trying to open a door, an ostium. And then I can actually feel it. This was a doorway. Now sealed up. But the wound through reality is still very fresh. All it would take is a serious mental shove from me to use those feelers to pull it apart. To rip it open. And the ostium would be reopened and I’d be able to pass through again.

A million thoughts flood my mind: what would I find on the other side? Where would I be? Would there be anyone else there? When would it be? Would it breathable? Would I be able to survive? Is it easier to tear open this scar from this side? Can the thing that did it originally not do it again from the other side? Is this one of the metaphysical rules of Ostium? For creating and opening an ostium?

If the thing is there on the other side will it want to rip off my head and drink the spurting blood from my exposed throat?

Woah! Where the fuck had that come from? It was almost like it wasn’t an original thought. Not one of my own.

Okay. I think I’ve experienced enough. I don’t know if I want to tell everyone what happened here.

[Short pause]

JAKE: Okay guys. All done here. I saw some weird shit, which I’ll tell you about as soon we all make it back to home base.

STEVE: Roger mate, see you back a HQ in a bit.

MONICA: I’ll meet you at the cable car. We can ride up together.

JAKE: Sounds good.

The walk back to the EV feels a long one, which is good, because it gives me time to do some serious thinking.

[PAUSE]

[STEVE:]

I wasn’t sure what it was that made me not want to do all the legwork and just sit comfortably at HQ. The thought of having to look at those strange sites where weird shit happened . . . Or is that weird sites where strange shit happened? A little from column A and a little from column B. The idea sounded intriguing. But I find Zhang and this whole quantum computer system, as well as the elaborate setup here at HQ so bloody fascinating I just wanted to stay up here.

Zhang is . . . As close to a human being as anyone I’ve ever met. When we got to talking a bit, as Jake and Monica were off checking out those rift sites, Zhang informed me after being treated like a basic computer program by everyone at the Ostium Network for so long, they were very happy and appreciative at how considerable we’d all been with them so far. Zhang also informed me that they had decided their preferred pronoun. In case you haven’t gathered, it’s they, them and their. That’s “their” possessive, not referring to a place. I told them I appreciated being informed of this and we would do our best to respect their wishes.

I barely need to type anything here. Zhang pretty much does it all, if I ask. Every once in a while a virtual keyboard will pop up out of thin air if I need to type something or use some keys for direction, such as when I wanted to see a complete map of the Rock. I was expecting a simple two-dimensional thing that I could look over. Get an idea of where we are, where our apartments are in relation to HQ, and how everything was all laid out. You know, basically one of those paper jobs one would get from the old petrol station back on normal Earth. Well, was I bloody surprised. It was this elaborate 3D topographical job. I felt like I was in the Matrix or something. I used the virtual keys to move around a bit, change the orientation and my point of view. I had Zhang put up little dots where we were, where our places were. Then I had her put up all the locations of the rift sites.

I was gobsmacked. I thought there might be some sort of pattern, you know. Just possibly. It was worth a shot. The big O stands out like a sort thumb. It’s so bloody obvious. Except it isn’t a complete O. There’s an unfinished part, near the top. But it’s very clear. Whoever is behind all this is either having a laugh or has a very fucked up idea of humor.

STEVE: Zhang, the rift sites look to be in a shape of an O.

ZHANG: That is correct.

STEVE: As in O for Ostium.

ZHANG: That is unknown and merely a hypothesis on your part. There are many other words beginning with that letter. Have you thought that it might also be the number zero?

STEVE: Erm, no. I suppose I hadn’t. Good point. Still a bloody big coincidence though.

ZHANG: I suppose so. For a human. You people sure do love your coincidences.

STEVE: You people? Whatcha mean by that then?

ZHANG: Flesh and blood corporeal beings.

STEVE: Alright then. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?

ZHANG: Whatever you desire, Steve.

[Short pause]

MONICA: Steve? Zhang? Come in? Are you there, honey?

STEVE: Yeah, I’m here, mum. What’s the matter?

MONICA: It’s Jake. He should be here by now. He should’ve been here a while ago. I’m starting to get worried. Can you find out what’s going on?

STEVE: Sure thing, mum. Give us a tic.

STEVE: Okay, Zhang. Can you show me on the map where Jake is? Can you tell if he’s okay?

ZHANG: One moment please . . . I have located him. According to my sensors, he is in peak health and condition. Unchanged to how he was before.

STEVE: Thank you. Where is he?

ZHANG: Here is his current location. He is in motion.

They showed me where he was. He wasn’t close to where he’d been before, at that last rift site. He wasn’t close to where Monica was waiting, at the bottom of the mountain where the cable car was. He wasn’t on his way to her either. He was in a completely different spot. On his way somewhere else. Somewhere he hadn’t told us he’d planned on going. It shouldn’t mean anything to me. I should be just as confused as my mum is right now. But I’m not. Because I’ve got that map and all the spots where the rift sites are. And I can clearly see where he’s headed. He’s headed to the part of that carefully arranged O where there’s a bloody great big hole.

STEVE: Zhang, can you work out where Jake’s headed.

ZHANG: No calculations are necessary. I am already fully aware where Jake is going.

STEVE: And . . . Where would that be exactly?

ZHANG: To the proposed location of the next rift site.

STEVE: Right . . . And how exactly did he come by that information?

ZHANG: Simple. I told him.

STEVE: Could you . . . possibly elaborate a bit?

ZHANG: Yes, Steve. He asked me for this information. I gave him this information.

STEVE: Okay then. And did he say why exactly he wanted to know there this rift site was?

ZHANG: He did not tell me . . . Exactly. He asked for the same information I have shown you on his datapad. A map and all the locations of the rift sites already occurred. He than asked if I could extrapolate where the next rift site would be. I said I could and did so. He then asked if I knew when the event might occur that would trigger the opening of this rift site. I told him I did and gave him the proposed time.

STEVE: And when might that be?

ZHANG: Eight minutes from now.

STEVE: Bloody hell. Okay then. Mum’s not gonna be happy.

[Short pause]

STEVE: Hello, mum. I’ve got some news for you. Bad news in fact. It’s really not good.

MONICA [Almost in anger]: Just tell me, Steve. Now.

STEVE: Jake’s on his way to the next expected rift site. He got the info from Zhang. The location and when it’s all supposed to happen.

MONICA: And when’s that?

STEVE: According to the counting down clock in front of me: seven minutes and thirty-seven seconds. And counting.

MONICA: [Pissed off breadth]: Kay.

[PAUSE]

[MONICA:]

I can’t fucking believe him! I’m know I’ve been in this situation before. I’ve know I’ve said these exact words. But still! Fuck him! I can’t fucking believe him. He got me again. I feel like . . . Fucking . . . Fucking Scully in the X-Files. Getting screwed over by Mulder over and over again. Left at the hotel room, or where the body is, or just by the side of the fucking road, while Mr. Spooky Mulder goes gallivanting off to who the fuck knows where. Well not this time.

MONICA: Zhang! I want the location of that final rift site on my datapad right now.

There’s no response. But a blinking light appears on the screen, at a spot on the map of Gibraltar. It’s not too far from here but it’s still far enough. I think I can make it in seven minutes. Barely. If I fucking floor it in the EV. But Jake’s got a head-start.

MONICA: Monica out!

I jump in the vehicle and hit what gas there is. It’s not quite ridiculously slow, but it’s . . . It’s fucking unimpressive. It’s just a little bit faster than I can run, so it is worth it.

Now I just have to bite my tongue and bide my time. And will this thing to go faster.

[Short pause]

I can see him. Up head. I’ve got less than a minute to go. He’s already there. Checking his datapad. Making sure it’s the right spot. He hasn’t heard me. Hasn’t looked around. Has no clue I’m on his tail. Boy am I going to lay into his ass when I get to him. He’s not getting away this time.

He’s walking up to the specific spot. Is he insane?

I stop the vehicle and jump out. I’m running now. Fast as I can. I’m making myself go faster than the EV now. I’m gonna get to him in time.

Gotta get to him in time.

[Short pause]

JAKE:

I’m here. Where Zhang told me it was gonna happen. The next rift site. I’ve got . . . Thirty seconds. I can feel the tension starting to build. It’s gonna happen. Real soon. I look at my datapad again, zooming in as far as it can go. It’s a matter of feet now, or meters according to the scale. I’m four meters away. Okay then. I count five steps back. This feels right. Some distance between us, but enough to do what needs to be done. Not sure exactly what that is yet, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in my time passing through Ostium, it’s always trust my gut and go with my intuition. It hasn’t steered me wrong. Yet.

Am I hearing something? Sounds like somebody running?

I look back over my shoulder and see Monica barreling down at me.

What the fuck?

And that’s when the explosion and light show begins.

[BOOM]

There’s a veritable tearing sound, but more akin to ripping flesh than cloth. It’s absolutely horrible. And the opening between worlds is clear before me. Then everything goes haywire. It’s like there’s a power vacuum, like being in a spaceship and there’s a hole in the hull. Everything’s being sucked in. I spread my legs, trying to keep my balance. Hold my ground. I can’t worry about Monica right now. She’s going to have to fend for herself. Hopefully she’s stopped and staying back or maybe running in the opposite direction. Let’s hope so.

What was she thinking?

And then gray arms are reaching through the rift. Scarred, wrinkled things. The hands are little more than skeletal appendages; finger bones that taper into a very fine and sharp point. They gouge into the ground and there’s a scalding sound like water on hot oil. The ground turns black. The talons sink into it like putty, pulling back. Trying to get a hold.

Not this time, whatever the fuck you are.

There’s noise and wind, and plenty of terror inside of me, but I do what I need to do. Because I have to. I hold out my arms, hands palm out. Then I make an emphatic pushing motion, while yelling:

Whatever the hell you are, get back! Get back from the foul pit from whence you came!

I know, it’s fucking cheesy, but I’m improvising here.

I don’t think the words do anything, but I feel something release itself from me, passing through my palms: a sort of white steam materializes and moves like a solid wall towards the opening.

There’s a strangled screech. The withered arms quickly pull back into the rift.

I wait a few seconds, then take tentative steps forward, getting closer. I don’t want to, but I have to. I’m ready to do whatever the hell I just did again. To push whatever it is back further in there. To fucking stop it once and for all.

I keep taking small steps ahead. Waiting. Wondering. Hoping.

Maybe that was enough to stop it?

Maybe?

[Short pause]

MONICA:

I stopped in my fucking tracks when those arms come out. Jesus, they’re scaring the shit out of me. What the fuck are they? And what the fuck are they attached to? I don’t think I want to know. But Jake is being Jake. Facing the badness like it’s no biggie. Just like he did before, when he stared down the open maw of the first Ostium door.

And now he’s doing something with his arms . . . What the shit is that? What the hell just came out of his hands?

Damn! It worked. Those arms have gone back inside. It had an effect.

Oh shit, he’s going closer. Don’t Jake. Don’t do it. I can’t fucking lose you again. Stop moving. Stay put. I’m slowly coming. I’m almost there.

[Short pause]

JAKE:

I can almost see through the rift. See what’s on the other side. I think it’s that crazy alternate world Ostium that Steve was in. It’s so weird. So not Ostium. And what’s that? That thing over there? It’s moving. Moving this way? Maybe. It looks injured. I can’t quite make it out. I need to get closer. I’m close to the edge now. The sounds are lessening. It’s helping me focus.

And then that thing moves with incredible speed. The arms are back and reaching for me . . .

[Short pause]

MONICA:

JAKE! The arms just shot out and grabbed him. JAKE! Hold on! I’m almost there.

He’s struggling. Trying to keep his footing. Trying to hold back. But they’re too strong. He can’t hold on.

And then he’s pulled through the rift . . . and gone. Like he never was. Just like he was before.

Gone from this world. Gone from this life.

But I’m not gonna let it happen this time. Not this fucking time. I’m so close. And the rift is starting to close up now. The edges knitting together. Fuck, I’ve got to hurry.

And then I only have one choice: I bend my knees and leap through the rift.

[Short pause]

[MONICA:]

By the time I come to on the other side I can see the rift has completely closed up.

And I have no fucking clue where Jake is . . . Or that thing that took him.

EPISODE 38 – THE STORY OF STEVE

[DAVE:]

I take a bit more time than I expected chatting with Zhang, catching up so to speak, but when I walk back and get on the cable car as it arrives, I feel a new man. A changed man. The jaunt back down to sea level is a quiet one, naturally, because I’m the only bloody one here. But I’m doing a lot of thinking. My mind is opening up like a cliche flower basking in a beam of sunlight, and the memories are pouring in like life-giving water.

And now I’ve got a sour taste in my mouth. Thanks brain.

I enjoy the sunset on my trip down with a view I never expected to experience in my lifetime. I savor every second of it.

[Short pause]

I arrive at the bottom and think: oh shit, they’ve taken the golf buggy and left me with bugger all. I’m going to have to walk all the way to the restaurant. Then I see an EV waiting for me. Oh, how nice of them. They must’ve got me one, or walked themselves. Probably found me one.

I hop in and soon I’m zooming down an echoey empty street, the light weakening and disappearing and I’m going as fast as I can, because I don’t want to get stuck out here in the dark. I do find the switch for some headlamps, and that definitely makes things easier.

It’s not long before I’m where I want to be. I turn things off and reach the door, then I open it as quietly as I can. I can hear Jake and Monica chatting, laughing, and even possibly canoodling. Having a bloody good time by the sounds of it. It makes a warm place in my chest, to be so close to these two. Honestly, we can be dealing with any old shit going on here and I’ll be absolutely fine with these two next to me. They make things so much easier. And they always make me laugh. I suppose that’s a reason to keep them around.

Well, time to make my entrance.

[PAUSE]

MONICA: Hi honey.

JAKE: Dave! Good to see you man.

STEVE: Hi guys, sorry I’m running a bit late. Had a lot I wanted to try and get out of Zhang.

JAKE: And did you get it out of her?

MONICA: Jake, honey. 1) You don’t know that Zhang is a she. 2) You don’t know what pronoun he, she or they prefers. And 3) That sounds fucking horrible. Please never say that again.

JAKE: As soon as the words were out of my mouth . . . Yeah, you get the idea. Anyway, Dave, how’d it go?

STEVE: Well, first off. It’s Steve now. Permanently.

MONICA: Are you sure? Is this what you want. Don’t let us or anyone or anything else pressure you into this. If you want to be Dave for the rest of your life, that’s perfectly fine by me. By us.

JAKE: Yes. Definitely. Whatever you want, man.

STEVE: Thanks guys. That means a lot. But I had some time to think about it. That cable car ride felt longer than usual. But in a good way. And now I’m ready.

MONICA: Good. I’m very happy for you, honey.

STEVE: Thanks mum. I’m ready to be Steve. And I’m ready to tell you what happened to me.

MONICA: All of it?

STEVE: [short pause] Yes. All of it.

JAKE: You remember it all?

STEVE: With Zhang’s help. It’s all been unlocked now, so to speak. Set free in the paddock of my mind. And I want to tell you both what happened to me.

MONICA: But first: dinner.

JAKE: Oh yeah, it’s just about ready. Come on. We need full stomachs for this.

STEVE: Sounds lovely.

[PAUSE]

STEVE: Wow. Delicious. That was a meal fit for a king.

JAKE: I thought you said the same thing yesterday?

STEVE: Well . . .

JAKE: Plus your mom helped with this one.

STEVE: Well . . .

MONICA: Steve, are you saying Jake’s cooking is better than our combined cooking?

STEVE: No.

MONICA: Well, which one is better? Yesterday’s, or today’s?

STEVE: Erm . . . How about dessert?

MONICA: Smooth move.

JAKE: Or is that . . . Cool move?

MONICA: Why?

JAKE: Because we’re having ice cream.

MONICA: Huh?

JAKE: For dessert, we’re having ice cream.

MONICA: I don’t get it.

JAKE: Ice. Cream. Which is cool. Because of the ice and being frozen, and . . . Hey, wait a minute: are you fucking with me?

MONICA: Gotcha!

JAKE: I’ll get the dessert.

MONICA: Are you sure you’re ready for this. To tell your story.

STEVE: Yeah. I am. I’m sure. I just don’t know how long it’s going to take. I don’t want to keep you two up late unnecessarily.

MONICA: Honey, we’re going to stay up as late as you need to us to. As late and as long as you need to tell your story the way you want to. To the end. Until you’re satisfied. I think we could probably rustle ourselves up some coffee if we need to. If we need it to stay awake.

STEVE: Coffee sounds good.

MONICA: It does, doesn’t it. I don’t think we’re going to need it to keep our eyes open. Your story is going to have us hooked. Trust me. But coffee would be good.

[Sounds of bowls on table]

JAKE: Yeah, it would. Let’s eat the ice cream first, then I’ll start boiling some water for coffee. You ready to start, Steve?

STEVE: [Breath] Yes. I’ve been thinking for a bit exactly where I want to start and I know it has to be at the right beginning. The right one for you, mum, and the right one for me. That would be when the people in charge first came to me about going through the first door. We’d all be learning and revising and relearning for weeks. Felt like there wasn’t really anything left to be learnt and we were just waiting for something new to happen. They even let us go to the Ostium place while it was still being built. It was incredible to actually see the thing we’d been talked to and learnt about for so long.

STEVE: And then one day two blokes came to my apartment when I didn’t have any classes. Completely unannounced. Scared the shit out of me to be honest. I didn’t really know what to do. What to expect. I offered them tea, with a straight face, mind you. It was bloody hard.

MONICA: Do you remember their names?

STEVE: Erm . . . They just gave me their surnames. Let me have a think . . . Keelin and Takaya. Yep. That was em.

MONICA: You’re sure?

STEVE: Yep.

MONICA: Positive?

STEVE: Yes! Why?

MONICA: It’s . . . It’s not important right now. Keep going.

STEVE: Okay. So before they’d even tried the tea, the Keelin bloke said we’re ready to have someone go through the Ostium door and we want it to be you. I was . . . Well . . . I was gobsmacked. Couldn’t bloody believe it. Out of all the people in Gibraltar I’d been the one chosen. The chosen one, essentially. We all knew it was going to happen eventually, didn’t we?

MONICA: Yes.

STEVE: We were all wanting it to happen. It’s what we’d been working towards. All that learning and revising and practicing and classes and teachers and waiting and waiting . . . And waiting. And then it happened. To me. I was told right there and then. It was me. I didn’t get to decide where or when I wanted to go. That was something that was going to come later. Right now there was one door I’d be going through, to a specific place. And that was it. I had to decide right at that moment. No time to think about, or have any second thoughts, I suppose. It was decide now, or they’d move on to someone else . . .

STEVE: I had to say yes. I’m sorry mom. For not letting you know. For not talking to you about it. I wanted to. Really, I did. But they wouldn’t let me.

MONICA: It’s okay, honey. I know it was something you couldn’t say no to. I don’t think I could’ve either, if it’d been me. But as soon as I found out . . .

STEVE: I know. I know because they told me. After I said yes, I’d do it, no matter what. They said I had to keep it a secret. That it was going to happen that afternoon, leaving me barely any time to prepare for it, both mentally and physically. But that’s how they wanted it. In case I never came back, which is sort of what happened to me. If they lost me they wanted to have their cover story ready for when the shit hit the fan. I didn’t fully realize this until later. Until I was in Ostium and couldn’t go back.

[PAUSE]

STEVE: They told me I couldn’t bring anything with me, other than the clothes on my back, so dress warm, they said, knowing full well where I was going, while I hadn’t a bloody clue. And then the time came. I’d spent those precious few hours at home, just savoring where I was, and trying to control the building excitement in me. It was just the other one this time – Takaya – and he took me away in one of the EVs to that special building I’d never been to before.

JAKE: The one we found, and checked out?

STEVE: Yeah, that one. I might’ve passed it once or twice before, but it was strictly off limits to the likes of us. So it never entered my head to try and see what it was like inside. But they took me through. Checked me in. I signed my name a few times on some datapad, and then was taken deeper inside. They gave me a new datapad. I’d left mine at home, as I’d been instructed to do. This new one they said wouldn’t have all the same abilities as my usual one, but it would allow me to do video and voice recordings which is mainly what they wanted me to do, to document everything that was happening to me; everything I was experiencing in Ostium. This told me pretty clearly – without them saying in so many words – that they had no bloody clue what it was going to be like for me on the other side. In Ostium. And once I went through that one door I was supposed to go through. It wasn’t exactly encouraging to hear this. But my heart was already thumping like a John Bonham bass drum, and I was sweating, and thankful they didn’t take my blood pressure because it would’ve been through the roof. This was just part of the plan. Part of the mission. Part of my job that I was about to start doing. My real job. Everything before had been practice. Training. Getting me ready. This was the real McCoy. The actual thing I was here to do. I knew it was a monumental first step. Just like Neil Armstrong on the moon. Just like those people who went into space for the first time. Just like those first people who took to the skies. Just like those people who decide to go into the unknown and find out just what the fuck was going on on the other side of the hill. Now it was my turn. The first person in Ostium. One small step through a doorway and voila . . . History made. I was ready. And even if I wasn’t, I told myself over and over – a mantra – that I was ready, whether I liked it or not.

STEVE: It was then they finally bloody told me where and when I’d be going through that one and only door. They told me that door would have a number two on it. The door that had a number one would be my living quarters, with a place to sleep, a toilet and shower, and kitchen stocked with food. Anything and everything I could need, essentially, according to them. They showed me a digital map of the place. Mum and I had been there with everyone else when we’d had that first chance to check it out, but things weren’t finished yet. A lot of stuff was still being built and organized. So the map felt completely different to that place we’d been to. They showed me where I’d be arriving. Where my home base was going to be, and where door number two was. I asked ‘em why I couldn’t have this nifty map on my datapad. They said my new datapad was empty right now, because they weren’t sure what would happen to any files that were on there once I went through the door to Ostium. They thought it would all get wiped or corrupted. I then asked them how they expected to get all these recordings they wanted me to do back to them. They said there was a specific contingency plan in place upon completing of my mission. In the cupboard under the sink at the very back stuck to the top was a box. Inside were specific instructions about what I was supposed to do once I’d finished up with everything. They talked about it as if it was going to be real easy, like a stroll down the lane, having some lunch in the park, feeding the ducks, then coming home. All done and sorted. No problems. I didn’t believe them for a second. But I knew I was too deep in it already and couldn’t turn back now and change my mind. I wouldn’t turn back now.

STEVE: Finally they told me what I’d find on the other side of door number two. I was traveling to the year 1587 to an island called Roanoke. They didn’t really need to give me the details, I knew the story, the history already. It was part of all that training. They knew that and didn’t bother going into any further detail on the subject. They told me I was to search the area for a whole hour. Gather as much information as I could. Make as many video and audio recordings as I could. Document it all to the best of my ability. And then come back to Ostium. Have a rest. Get a good night’s sleep. Eat when I needed to. And the following day I was to do the same bloody thing all over again. And after that was done, do it all over once again. Then, after all that, I was to read those very secret and hidden instructions and carry them out. Alright then, I thought. Seems pretty easy, but very likely won’t be. Almost tedious with how they’re describing in. But I was just as shit scared as I had been when they first told me what I was going to do five hours ago. Then they said it was time. I got myself as ready as I could. Slipped the datapad into an inside coat pocket that was big enough, and followed them to the room.

JAKE: The room where we found the door to Ostium.

STEVE: Yeah. That one. For the first time in my life I knew what it was like to be an animal in a cage. They opened the door to the room and waited, saying nothing. I got the hint and walked in. No goodbye or good luck or anything. They shut the door firmly behind me, spinning the lock in place with a loud clunk. And then they watched me through the glass window. Waiting for me to do my thing. So I gave them a sarcastic wave and toddled over to the other door in the room. I tried to keep my hand from shaking, as I reached for the door handle. Think I did a pretty good job of it. Then turned and opened it onto darkness. That was when I peed myself a little. It was just so black. No indication of anything in there. Just complete and utter night. And as I stepped through, closing the door behind me as I’d been instructed to, all I could think was: oh shit, I didn’t bring any extra underpants.

[PAUSE]

STEVE: The first thing I did when I was on the other side was I pulled out the datapad and checked it to make sure everything was working. It was. I didn’t really know why I did that at the time, but having thought on it a bit, I believe it was because it was my one and only connection with the Ostium Network, with the world I’d just left. When we came through that first time, the door was left wide open and we could all see the way back easy as pie. This time, once I was through, that door was closed and my way back was gone. Hence the specific instructions once I carried out the mission. It was weird. Bloody weird. Being there completely by my lonesome. But I knew what was done was done and I was here and it was all up to me now. So I put one foot in front of the other and walked into my new home for a bit.

JAKE: Did you enjoy your stay at the Ritz?

STEVE: You what? Oh . . . Right. Yes. It was lovely. Definitely going back there again. It was just like they said it would be. Comfy bed. Fully stocked kitchen. Lots of tinned foods. A working toilet, which is important when you’re eating those tinned foods. But by the time I got there it was late afternoon. It had already been a . . . Traumatic day, to say the least. So I made myself some din-dins. Cleaned everything up and then went to bed. I was bloody tired and slept like a baby.

STEVE: Next morning I was up early, feeling refreshed and ready to go through that door. It took me a little while to find where door number two was. I didn’t have that digital map so I had to recall it from memory, and I don’t have your photographic memory, Jake, so it was bloody hard.

JAKE: [sigh] Sometimes I wish I’d never mentioned the memory thing.

MONICA: But do you? Do you really?

STEVE: And it has allowed for endless jokes . . . Right?

JAKE: Yeah, yeah. Get on with your story.

STEVE: All-right . . .Touchy! Anyway, today was going to be the day and I had no bloody clue what was going to happen. Next I found that map table which helped wonders to point me towards the right door. But I didn’t know if I was going to make it through to the end, if I was going to survive, or what . . . So before I went to the door I recorded a message on the datapad. A video. For you, mum. In case things got weird and I never saw you again. I wanted some record, a message telling you what had happened to me. Just something. So you wouldn’t always wonder. And something that might give you hope if you were looking for me. Because I knew you would be, whether the Ostium Network would let you or not. Once that was done I left. I found the door and it opened without any problems, and I stepped through before I could have any second thoughts. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d been told it was Roanoke in the sixteenth century, but it wasn’t a historical period I was very familiar with. More American history than British. Not part of my repertoire, if you know what I mean. The first thing I noticed was how green it was. Like the Lake District, where I’ve been on holiday a few times with friends. It made me think they must get a lot of rain here, to keep everything so green. The ground was all green; lots of green trees. Oaks possibly? And I saw this wooden fence in the distance. Just as you described it, Jake. But then I saw there was something wrong . . . Something very wrong . . .

[Short Pause]

JAKE: Was it something to do with the trees? Or the wooden palisade?

STEVE: No . . . No. It was much worse than that. It was something wrong with . . . This reality I was in. I turned my head and Roanoke just . . . Stopped being there. It was as if someone had drawn a division line, ending it there, like a painting or drawing that just cuts off. On the other side of that invisible line was a metal wall and floor and this bloody great big window looking out on a reddish-orange desert. It was . . . It was bloody unbelievable. I think my head started hurting, like when you’re looking at two images and one is out of focus, or just off, and starts to do your head in. I wondered what the bloody hell I was looking at and then saw the spaceship through that window plonked in the sand like it was a completely normal thing. I didn’t have a clue what I was looking at, at the time . . .

JAKE: But you now realize it was the Martian landscape.

STEVE: Right. Though if I’d known, I don’t know if it would’ve made a difference. I was so . . . Discombobulated. There was probably a part of me that was pretty certain I was going bonkers. But that wasn’t the end of it. I kept swiveling my head to the right and there was another hidden line of separation and a new scene: a dark blue ocean and an old ship. I could just make out the name on the back . . .

MONICA: The Mary Celeste.

STEVE: Yes. To me it meant nothing. It made as much sense as everything else I was seeing. What I did know was that this wasn’t right. It was very bloody wrong. Whatever they’d planned on at the Ostium Network. It wasn’t this. And if I was scared before, now I was beyond terrified. It’s the sort of shit you see and think, well, I’m not going to make it out of this alive, am I? Of course, I’m able to approach it this way now because I did. These three . . . Dimensions, for lack of a better word. I’m pretty sure that’s what they were, which were all converging in this once place with me in the middle, took up my horizon, so I had little choice but to turn back to the door I’d come through, wanting to get the fuck out of this place. Except the door had closed. I made sure I kept it open when I came through, just so I’d have a way out if I needed it. I didn’t hesitate. I just turned the handle and opened it and stepped through, looking to save my arse. I stepped into the blackness, but I didn’t end up back in Ostium . . .

[PAUSE]

STEVE: I’m sorry. I’m taking my time because I’m still trying to put it all together. I remember what happened. But there’s also me viewing it through the lens of time knowing everything now and knowing exactly what happened. I didn’t know for sure for so long. I was in the complete unknown. I’m also trying to put it into words for you now. To make sense of it all . . .

MONICA: Honey, you take as much time as you need. If you’re not ready . . .

STEVE: No. I am. I know I am.

JAKE: Only if you’re sure, man. Maybe just tell and don’t worry about how it all comes out. If it’s jumbled, we can help piece it together. If it doesn’t make sense, we’ll work it out.

STEVE: Thank you guys. [Breath] Okay then. I woke up and found myself inside a flat, well, not exactly, it was the shell of a flat. The structure of a building that wasn’t finished yet. But even though it was during the day, there were no workmen around. I don’t know if it was the weekend or a bank holiday or they were all just scarping. There were . . . Two things that were very worrying for me. A) I had completely lost my memory: I didn’t remember who I was, where I was, or how I’d gotten here. And B) I was starkers. With hindsight I’m able to process this a little more. Whatever that place was on the other side of door number 2 it was a major fuck-up, something that was never meant to happen; something that was never meant to be. A mutation of what Ostium was supposed to be able to do. So I think when I went through and the door closed behind me, it severed me from Ostium. Probably permanently. No bloody clue. When I opened the door again it was to somewhere else. And some-when else. London apparently. And going through there literally stripped me of all my personal belongings. Hence being naked and not knowing who I was. And of course it was just then that someone walked into the room. A middle-aged black woman. She screamed. I screamed. And we had a long awkward moment. When I started trying to explain what had happened to me, I think she could hear the pleading in my voice. The earnestness. Or she just had a very good heart and soul. She believed my story. Gave me her coat. Told me to wait and came back a half hour later with some McDonald’s, a t-shirt, track bottoms and a pair of flip-flops. They were a little small, but I was so grateful. I at least remembered how to speak English properly. So not everything was gone. The woman who helped me . . . It’s funny. For the life of me, I can’t remember her name. No matter how much I try. Well, she took me to a hospital. St. Stephen’s. It’s a mental hospital. They were very nice there. I stayed for six months. They did everything they could to try and help me remember who I was. What happened to me. No such luck. After six months we all pretty much agreed there was nothing that could really be done for me to get my memories back. They seemed to be permanently gone. And that was that. We were all on the same page about this. They’d found an elderly couple who were willing to let me stay with them for a bit. So I could get back on my feet. You see to me I felt like I’d just forgotten who I was and what I did, obviously I’d been someone in London or England and had a job and a family. We thought within those  six months my family would’ve gotten in touch with me. Someone would’ve been looking. But I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in that hospital. So I went to live with Bob and Eileen. After a year I started calling them mum and dad. They didn’t mind. They’d never had children, though they’d always wanted to. It’d just never happened. Never worked out. So that was my life for a bit. It felt . . . Lovely and routine and normal.

MONICA: I’m really happy you found someone, some life to live. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like. But I’m very glad you found someone and something to live for.

STEVE: Thanks, mum. Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last that long. One year almost to the day – I swear it was – when I started calling them mum and dad, dad just disappeared. Never came home. No one knew what’d happened. And before I could truly wrap my mind around it, mum disappeared next. I was heartbroken. Really destroyed by it all. Fortunately, I had a few friends who were there for me as I went through . . . Grief I suppose. All that grief. I’d been legally adopted by Bob and Eileen by that point and when nothing was learned about them they were declared legally dead. There was a will and they left everything to me, which was both wonderful and horrible at the same time. I had the house, and I had some money, and I had a job. So I was alright on my own, considering everything. That’s when I started wondering if everything that had happened to me hadn’t been an accident or coincidence. If there was some reason behind it all. Or maybe even someone or a group of people. Yeah, I know, it sounds very conspiracy-theory, but I was very into the X-Files at the time and all that sort of stuff . . .

JAKE: Steve, do you remember when this was? What year?

STEVE: Course I do, you plonka. It was 1999.

MONICA: Oh my god.

STEVE: Yeah. Bloody incredible, isn’t it? I went through that door and back in time. I suppose I should be happy I didn’t end up in the Middle Ages or somewhere much worse. But that’s when I got the first idea for EMU – Enigmatic Mysteries of the Unknown. I started putting it all together for an episodic podcast. I hadn’t seen anything else like it online, so I thought I was doing something new and unique. Got myself a simple website on Geocities and started uploading the recordings. Started getting a fantastic reception almost right way. It was a little bit weird, honestly. And then I found Ostium. Your recordings Jake. That changed everything. And the rest of the story you know . . .

JAKE: That’s . . . Well, I’d say that’s unbelievable if I didn’t know all the steps after that led to you being here with me and meeting back up with your mom. It’s a truly incredible story. You’ve been through so goddamn much.

STEVE: Yeah. Tell me about it.

MONICA: I don’t know how you did it. But I’m so grateful that you’re here now. That we’re all together.

STEVE: Yeah. Me too. But I’m feeling bloody knackered now. Can hardly keep my eyes open.

MONICA: You head off to bed then. Jake and I can finish cleaning all this up. We’ll see you in the morning.

STEVE: Are you sure? Jake?

JAKE: Definitely, man. You get some shut-eye.

STEVE: Alright then. Nighty all. Love you mum.

MONICA: Love you, sweetie.

[Short break]

[STEVE:]

I’m back in the golf cart and driving slowly back to my flat. I’m very tired. That was lovely food. And it definitely feels like a big weight has been lifted off my chest now that I’ve got my story out. Told them, and made myself realize everything that’s happened to me. It has been a bloody lot. I don’t know where Jake’s going to be sleeping tonight, and I wasn’t going to ask. It’s none of my business really. But I know him and mum were shacking up together back in Ostium, and if they want to keep doing that, I’m perfectly alright with it. We’re all adults here.

And here we are, then. God, I can’t wait to get under those covers.

As they say: tomorrow is another day.

EPISODE 37 – SAY HAI TO THE AI

DAVE: Oh my bloody god. What the fuck, Jake?

JAKE: Hang on a second, Dave.

MONICA: Un-fucking-believable.

JAKE [Clearing throat]: Who am I, computer?

AI: You are the creator, CEO, and president of the Ostium Network.

JAKE: President?

AI: Person in charge. Boss. Head honcho. Overseer. Superintendent. Governor. Controller. Overseer. Supervisor. Do you require further definition terms, Jake?

JAKE: Er . . . No. No. No, thank you. That’s quite enough.

MONICA: That voice . . . It sounds familiar.

JAKE: Er . . .computer? Do you have a name?

AI: Yes. If you did not ask me for it in the next 37 seconds, I was going to tell you, regardless of any questions you had asked or were currently asking me. It’s the polite thing to do.

JAKE: I . . . I apologize. You’re completely right. By what name would you like to be addressed?

AI: Zhang.

JAKE: Zhang? Okay, Zhang. A pleasure to meet you.

AI: And you, Jake Fisher. Though we have met and conversed and interacted on many previous occasions. Nevertheless, I appreciate good manners. Therefore: a pleasure to meet you too.

MONICA: Zhang? Zhang . . . I . . . I know that name.

AI: Yes, Monica Chase. You do know me. We have met on one previous occasion. As I have also met you, Stephen Chase, on a previous occasion.

DAVE: What? It’s not ringing any bells.

MONICA: The interview!

AI: Yes. Well done, Monica. That is correct. The only time we have met is at the . . .

MONICA: Five Elephant Kreuzberg. In Berlin.

AI: Yes. Affirmative.

MONICA: Except there’s a big fucking problem.

AI: Oh . . . And what is that?

MONICA: You’re not a real human being, you’re a . . . Fucking computer. Artificial intelligence. Whatever the hell you want to call yourself.

AI: Ahh . . . I see where you have erred. No, you are wrong.

MONICA: What? Am I missing something here? Is there a person behind the curtain somewhere?

AI: If only you would allow me to explain . . .

JAKE: It’s okay, Zhang. Monica’s been through . . . We’ve all been through a lot. Today, especially. Please excuse our behavior. And please do explain. Thank you.

AI: Ah yes. The three of you meeting today. After . . . So long. Understandable. Very well. Let me please explain in one succinct sentence: I was never human to begin with.

DAVE: What?!

AI: Yes, Stephen, or Steve as you prefer to be called. When we met in Paris at Les Deux Magots a week before your mother’s interview, for your interview . . .

DAVE: But I have no memory of that. I have no memory of you!

AI: Ah yes, your amnesia. Again, understandable. What if I was to tell you at that cafe I recommended you order the hot chocolate. You were hesitant. Then you tried it and proclaimed it the most exquisite beverage you had ever consumed. And I am quoting you there.

[Short pause]

DAVE: Oh my god, I do remember! I remember it all now! Just by you telling me it. A bloody trigger. It’s all there now. A few blocks from the Seine. Yes. It’s all there. But . . . I know for a fact I met a person. A real person. Qiao Zhang.

AI: Ah, that’s is where you are in error, Steve Chase. You met me. Qiao Zhang. In my android form. My . . . Mobile form.

DAVE: You’re bloody kidding me.

AI: No, I am not. I am being perfectly candid with you. The person you and your mother saw and interviewed with was me, but not completely. It was my android body which part of my conscious had been downloaded into. A sort of remote drone, if you will, that allows me to control and manipulate it from any distance across the world. Across multiple worlds in fact. You were never talking to or interacting with a human being. It was me. Zhang.

DAVE: Holy. Fucking. Shit. I thought Ostium was scifi enough, but this . . . This is . . .

AI: A creation of Jake Fisher . . .

JAKE [Shock]: What?!

AI: Yes, Jake Fisher created me. However, I am fully aware that you are not THAT Jake Fisher, Jake. You are not the Jake Fisher of this instance of the multiverse. Just as I know you, Monica, and you, Steve, are not either. You are all from a different timeline. And now . . . Somehow . . . You have ended up in this one. My timeline. But this is most certainly a good thing. For I was getting rather lonely.

[PAUSE]

JAKE: Zhang . . . How do you know we are not the right versions of . . . Ourselves . . . That are supposed to be here?

DAVE: Erm, sorry mate, could you rephrase that in a version of English I can understand, please?

AI: It is a valid question, Jake Fisher. Stephen Chase: Your friend is asking how I know you are not the original Jake, Stephen and Monica who have always been here in this timeline. In my timeline. Well, the answer is simple.

[Short Pause]

MONICA: Could we get that answer?

AI: Certainly. I was just waiting for someone to ask me. I know you are not the Jake, Stephen and Monica of this timeline because they are all dead.

UNISON: What?!

AI: An expected response. I apologize. I do not know for certain if they are all dead, but I suspect they are.

MONICA: By all . . . Do you mean, er, the other Jake, Steve . . . And me?

AI: No.

MONICA [CONFUSED]: Oh.

AI: By “all dead” I mean every person living in this timeline of the Ostium Network.

JAKE: All of them?

AI: As I said before. I am not certain they are dead. But they are all gone.

DAVE: Okay. You two stop talking for two tics. Zhang: please give us the story on this.

AI: I cannot do that Dave . . . Or would you prefer: [HALL 9000 voice] I cannot do that Dave.

DAVE: What. The. Fuck.

JAKE: It’s not bad actually.

AI: Thank you Jake. But my imitation is not as good as yours.

JAKE: Er . . . How do you know I can do a HALL 9000 impression?

AI: Because of your recording.

JAKE: My recording?

AI: Yes. Your recording. To Dave. Who is really Steve.

DAVE: Again, I repeat: What. The Fuck.

MONICA: You’ve heard that recording?

AI: I have that recording.

JAKE [HESITANT]: Why do you have that recording?

AI: I have all your recordings, Jake. As well as Monica’s, and Stephen’s recorded under the nom de plume “David Fothergill Attenborough Windsor.

MONICA: Do we really want to know why?

JAKE: I don’t think so.

AI: I have all your recordings because while there are an infinite number of timelines where the Ostium Network exists, there is only one artificial intelligence. There is only one . . . Zhang.

MONICA: How can you possibly know that?

AI: I just do. A perfectly human answer. But I know you will not deem that an acceptable response. Nor if I were to say it is a gut feeling or anything to that effect. Therefore let me explain from the point of view of an AI. My . . . Processor, my core . . . If anything were to be identified as my heart, my brain, and possibly my soul, you would find it – if you could find it – very deep within this island not at the nano level . . . Not at the molecular level . . . Not at the atomic level . . . But at the quantum level.

DAVE: Holy. Shit.

JAKE: Care to elucidate what you mean by that, Zhang?

AI: Why would you be asking me, Mr. Jake Fisher? You created me? [PAUSE] I apologize. That was mean. I know it is not the Jake Fisher standing here right now in this timeline that put me together. Is anyone here familiar with how a quantum processor works?

DAVE: I could lie and say yes, like I know what the fuck I’m talking about, but I really don’t.

MONICA: They taught us a little about quantum theory, but nothing I’d feel confident spouting back to a quantum AI.

JAKE: I’m a little familiar with quantum theory, but why don’t you make everything crystal clear for us.

AI: Thank you Jake Fisher. I will attempt to do exactly this. It involves the quantum entanglement principle. Are you, Monica and Stephen, familiar with this principle?

MONICA: A little, though I’m pretty sure Dave isn’t. But why do you assume Jake knows?

AI: The Jake Fisher from my timeline . . . The one who created the Ostium Network, was a gifted genius and excelled in most of the sciences. Quantum theory was one of his favorite subjects.

MONICA: Okay. So what does that Jake have to do with this Jake?

AI: Based on Jake’s recordings, I have deduced that Jake is familiar with quantum theory.

[Beat]

MONICA: Well?

JAKE: Well what?

MONICA: Are you?

JAKE: [pause] You want me to answer truthfully?

MONICA: Ah, fuck. Yeah, I guess so.

JAKE: Then yes. I am familiar with quantum theory and the quantum entanglement principle.

DAVE: Is that one of your “obsessions”?

JAKE: Yes, unfortunately.

MONICA: [Sigh] I say again: ah, fuck.

AI: Would you care to explain the basics, Jake?

JAKE: You guys cool with that?

MONICA: Just fucking spit it out and enlighten us, Jakey.

JAKE: Okay. So the basics of quantum theory are that something can be one thing, or it can be another. Like Schroedinger’s cat?

DAVE: Isn’t it pronounced Schroedinger?

JAKE: I dunno. That’s how I’ve always said it in my head.

DAVE: That’s the one where the cat is either dead or alive and you don’t know until you open the box, right?

JAKE: Exactly. But for that moment before you open the box, the cat is essentially both dead and alive. Two states at the same time. This is quantum theory. Quantum computers exemplify this. With computers it’s either a one or a zero, right?

MONICA: Sure.

JAKE: Well, with quantum computers, it can be a one or a zero, or both a one and a zero. So three options instead of two, giving it way more computing power. Quantum computing power, measured in qubits!

DAVE: Your having me on? Qubits? Sounds like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

JAKE: No, it’s the real deal.

AI: Thank you, Jake. Your elaboration of quantum theory was simple, perhaps even crude, but served to convey the idea correctly. [Sing-song voice]There’s no earthly way of knowing . . . Which direction they are going. [Sing-song voice end] And what about quantum entanglement?

JAKE: Oh yeah, and if you’re head’s already hurting, wait till you hear this. So the basic atomic structure is your proton and neutron, with the electron spinning around the outside somewhere. It’s never really in one spot at one time, so it has sort of this ring around the nucleus, like the rings of Saturn. Well, they’ve observed that an electron in one atom is somehow connected to an electron in another atom to the extent that you can’t just study that individual electron without being aware of the other, and so you have to observe the system as a whole, which is termed a quantum entanglement state. It’s also been observed in neutrinos and photons. But they have no idea how it’s happening, or why. It’s a complete mystery of science.

DAVE: That . . . That is bloody mind boggling. The parts of it my mind was able to grasp, that is. Bloody mind boggling.

MONICA: Yeah, what he said.

AI: Thank you again, Jake. To put my own existence in simplistic terms. My “core,” my processor, my soul – if you wish to get metaphysical – exists in a quantum entanglement state to the Nth degree. It exists here, in this Ostium Network, right now. But it also exists in the billions of other Ostium Networks in other timelines. Therefore, if you wished – though I do not know why you would want to, for you seem such nice people – you could dig down deep into this island and find my core and destroy it, but I would still remain hale and healthy – for an artificial intelligence that is – existing in those many other states and remain essentially unharmed by your actions.

JAKE: That is . . . Truly unbelievable. So you exist in all these other states, all these iterations of the Ostium Network simultaneously?

AI: Yes, astutely put, Jake. I am one, and I am many. Very. many.

MONICA: Goddamn.

[PAUSE]

MONICA: Can we get back to you explaining why everyone in your timeline is dead?

AI: I never said they were dead.

MONICA: Deep breath, Monica [Breath], can you explain what happened to them and where they went.

AI: That is a much better phrased question. I will attempt to do so. Ahem. Approximately two weeks . . .

DAVE: Hang on, hang on, hang on. “Approximately”?

JAKE: Yeah, Dave’s right. You’ve never been approximate about anything in your life, Zhang.

AI: Very well, you know-it-alls. Exactly two weeks, to the day – if you want to the hour, you’ll have to wait three hours, fourteen minutes, and fifty-two seconds. Fifty-one seconds. Fifty seconds . . .”

JAKE: Yeah, we get the idea, please continue.

AI: Very well. Two weeks ago the first explosion occurred. It came without warning or expectation. I applied every form of detection and study I could conceive of to deduce what was happening. I arrived at no conclusions, other than the understanding that a hole had opened up in this reality. The amount of energy required to conduct such a feat is . . . Considerable. I was able to detect where on the island it originated, but by the time someone arrived at the location, there was nothing left, other than a feeling of severe static activity, according to the witness. It wasn’t until later that we learned there had been two people right in the path of where the opening occurred that were immediately absorbed into the rift. Presumably killed.

[Short pause]

AI: The next explosion occurred two days later, then later that afternoon. With each passing day more rifts formed, came, and went, taking more and more people. Panic set in and people didn’t know what to do. It appeared that the only safe place on the island was right here. I told my Jake Fisher this, and I believe he told no one else. There was no one to stop them, or prepare for them in any way. Graves were made, though no remains were buried. But this soon become fruitless. Eventually Jake Fisher, creator of the Ostium Network, was the only person left here.

MONICA: What happened to him?

AI: I cannot tell you. It is classified.

DAVE: Can you tell Jake?

AI: I cannot tell him. It is classified.

JAKE: Wait, what? But I am . . . Me. The same person. Sort of. Surely you can tell me.

AI: I am sorry, Jake. I cannot. The other you. The Jake from my timeline was very specific. I even recorded his message.

OTHER JAKE (Chris doing a different sounding voice, brusk and gravely): Under no circumstances – what-so-fucking-ever – are you to reveal what happened to me. No fucking hint of what I did. Even if . . . Even if another fucking me comes waltzing through one of those holes and comes knocking on your door, asking what the fuck happened to everyone. You keep your trap 100% shut. Got it?

MONICA: He . . . He really sounds like an asshole.

AI: He is my superior and creator. I have no say in the matter.

MONICA: Well, I do, and I’m sure fucking happy we got you, Jakey, and not that son of a bitch.

DAVE: Did the explosions stop after everyone was gone? After whatever that other Jake did to leg it out of here?

AI: Leg . . . it . . . Ah yes. A colloquialism. I understand. No. They did not. They continued. And did not alter upon your arrival either. That applies to all three of you.

DAVE: Those explosions. We’ve been hearing them. They’re . . . Bloody terrifying.

MONICA: Yep. I heard them too. Scared the shit out of me.

AI: Well then, you will appreciate this next bit of information I am about to give you: after studying every incident I’ve been able to catalog with these explosions, I am now able to guess with an 80% accuracy, when the next one will occur.

DAVE: Wow. Most impressive. When are we due for the next one?

AI: Two minutes.

MONICA [pissed off]: Seriously?

AI: Yes. One minute and fifty-five seconds.

JAKE: And you think with each of those explosions people were sucked in and killed.

AI: That is my hypothesis yes. They may well have survived, depending on what is on the other side of each of these rifts. But the severity with which they have struck indicates they are extremely violent and unlikely to take one to a place of quiet and calm.

MONICA: No shit.

JAKE: But you did say we are safe up here.

AI: Yes.

JAKE: And you know when the next rift is going to open.

AI: Yes. To within 80% accuracy. Forty-five seconds now.

JAKE: Know where?

AI: Yes. Again, up to 80% accuracy.

JAKE: Are we able to see it from up here? Like with a camera or through the window?

AI: I do have a few cameras within the vicinity of the next proposed rift, but they are quite distant and always cease working just before the explosion commences. I recommend looking out the window at the far right, in a south-south-westerly direction.

JAKE: So . . . Over there?

AI: Yes. Hurry now. You have less than ten seconds.

[Running feet sound]

[Booming sound]

[DAVE and MONICA in shock simultaneously:]

MONICA: Oh my god!

DAVE: Bloody hell!

[Short pause]

JAKE: The amount of entropy . . . Energy required to make that happen. To make a rift . . . Rip a hole in reality like that.

DAVE: Erm . . . Jake. Didn’t you do that to get us here?

JAKE: Damn, you’re right. [Short pause] Zhang, did you . . . Were you aware of when Dave and I came through to this island?

AI: Yes, Jake. I picked up an increase in electrical activity and focused my cameras on that area. I saw the rift – or door, as you like to call it – open through reality, bringing you and Steve into this world.

JAKE: Huh. Guess I was right about somebody watching us.

DAVE: When did you say that?

JAKE: Like right after we arrived. Didn’t I?

DAVE: I haven’t the foggiest of you ever mentioning it.

JAKE: Well, I was thinking it at least.

DAVE: Oh well then, in that case . . .

JAKE: Anyway . . . Zhang, how does the opening I created compare with these . . . Oh look, it’s gone now. Closed up.

AI: Yes. The rifts generally close up after a minute. Enough time to pull something through, but not enough energy to keep it open permanently.

MONICA: Which is a good thing.

JAKE: Definitely.

AI: It depends on one’s intention with these rifts.

DAVE: Well, that would depend on who or what’s making them.

AI: Precisely.

JAKE: Do you know who or what is creating them, Zhang?

AI: No. I am unable to determine this answer. I can sense their arrival. They last on average a minute and two seconds, and then close up and are gone. That is all I know about them.

JAKE: And when you compare them to the one I created?

AI: These are much more powerful. Larger. Your rift was gone in twelve seconds. It was smaller. Considerably less energy. Whatever is making these particular rifts has a superior strength and ability to you.

JAKE: Thank you . . . For clarifying. Not that I was in any doubt.

DAVE: Hey, mate. You still got us both through in one piece. Don’t feel bad. It was just right. The Goldilocks ostium.

JAKE: Thanks, man.

MONICA: So what do we do now? What’s our next move.

DAVE: Good question, mum. Jake?

JAKE: Why are you looking at me?

MONICA: Seriously?

DAVE: Yeah, you’re the one who’s been the man in charge, making all the decisions since you first set foot in Ostium, and look where it’s got you. You clearly know what you’re doing.

JAKE: But I don’t. I’ve been winging it the whole time. Doing what I thought was right.

MONICA: And it’s worked. You’re alive. We’re all alive. Granted, you had nothing to do with me getting through Ostium, but that was all my awesomeness, other than as a pestering voice in my head . . .

JAKE: What?!

MONICA: Don’t worry about it. But remember: you’re tied to Ostium. You’re tied to the Ostium Network. Now we understand a little more why. It doesn’t make total sense, but it makes a little sense. A different you. From a different time . . .

JAKE: I don’t know if I’d say a different time . . .

MONICA: You know what I mean. A different existence. A different fucking timeline. That’s what I meant to say. But it’s still you. You’re still important. You’re still the one who gets to decide what to do next, and I’d bet my next meal on you already having an idea what that is.

[Short pause]

JAKE: Okay, you got me there, Monica. Like you always do. Yeah. I do know what I want to do next. I want to study those rifts. Where they happened before and where they’re going to happen next. Try to get a little closer to them . . .

DAVE: Not too close!

JAKE: No. A safe distance. I’m sure Zhang can recommend how close I can get before it becomes dangerous?

AI: Yes. I’d be happy to oblige, Jake.

JAKE: Thank you. Because here’s the deal: from what we’ve heard from Zhang, they’re not going away. They’re going to keep coming. Keep happening. They may get worse. They may get more dangerous. I don’t want that to happen. And the only way I can do something about them is by knowing more about them.

DAVE: Are you going to use some of your Ostium magic on ‘em?

MONICA: What the hell are you talking about? Jake?

JAKE: I need to catch you up on some things, Monica. The stuff that’s happened to me. After the blackness came.

MONICA: No time like the present.

DAVE: Look, why don’t you two toddle off back down to sea level and have a good old chinwag and relive old times and catch each other up. I’ve got some things I want to talk about with Zhang.

MONICA: Did he say chinwag?

JAKE: Yes. He likes that one. And sounds like a good idea, Dave. We’ll let you do your thing. Though I do have one more question for Zhang?

AI: Yes, Jake?

JAKE: Is there some way we can keep in contact with you, or do we have to come up here every time to communicate?

AI: What a silly question. Of course not, silly. Oh . . . Pardon my insult. It seems like such a simple thing, I’m just surprised you don’t know. My apologies. Over in the right-hand corner next to the window there are a number of datapads in their charging cradles. Monica, you still have yours, correct?

MONICA: Got my old friend right here.

AI: Good. Steve, you also have yours, though if either of you wishes to you can choose a new one if you’d like.

DAVE: Erm . . . Lemme think a minute . . . No, I’ll stick with my original one. Mum?

MONICA: I’m very attached to this one.

AI: Very good. Jake, you may choose any one of the datapads. Create a login and password for yourself and you will be all set. On each of the datapads you will now be able to see a new icon, named ZHANG. You may select and converse with me via text or audio.

JAKE: Huh, just like Siri.

AI: Do not compare me to that inferior piece of pathetic mimicry. I am a raging goddess compared to that piece of antiquated hardware!

JAKE: I’m . . . I’m really sorry, Zhang . . .

AI [Laughter]: Do not worry, Jake, I was making a little joke. I apologize. Yes, there are some minor similarities. But I am far superior in many ways.

JAKE: I know, Zhang. You don’t need to convince me.

MONICA: We’re all convinced! Come on, Jake.

JAKE: I’ll see you later, Dave.

DAVE: Sure mate. We’ll all have dinner together. My treat.

MONICA: Sounds great, hun. See you later.

DAVE: Bye mum.

[Hugging sound]

MONICA: What a day it’s been.

DAVE: It certainly, bloody has.

JAKE: And it’s not over yet! I plan on putting on a big spread for dinner.

[Fading voices]

MONICA: Ooh, what’s cooking?

JAKE: It’s a surprise.

MONICA: Ooh, I do like surprises. Like when you bought me that fancy lunch that time at the diner in Covello.

JAKE: Hey that food was great.

DAVE: Bye guys. See you laters.

[Short pause]

AI: What can I help you with, Steve?

DAVE [breath]: That thing you did earlier. When you triggered my memory to come back to me. And it worked. I remembered.

AI: Yes?

DAVE: Did you know it was definitely going to happen? That I would remember?

AI: I was certain to a 92% accuracy. Pretty sure, as you would say.

DAVE: Good. That’s what I wanted to hear. Because I want you do to it to me again. For lots of things. I want to remember as much as I can, and I need your help me to do that. If you’d be willing. I’d really appreciate it.

AI: Of course, Steve, I’d be happy to. But first I must ask you a single question: are you sure you are ready for this?

[Short pause]

DAVE: Yes. I’m ready. I want to remember . . . Everything . . .

EPISODE 36 – PEAK

[Tense breathing]

[Sounds of minor movement]

MONICA [UTTER SHOCK]: Jake?

JAKE [SHOCKED]: Monica?

MONICA [RELIEF]: Jake.

DAVE: Monica?

MONICA [DISBELIEF]: Steve?

JAKE [CONCERN]: Monica?

MONICA [PAINED]: Steve?

DAVE [DISBELIEF]: Mum?

MONICA [RELIEF]: Steve.

[Short pause]

JAKE: Rocky?

[PAUSE]

MONICA: Goddamnit Jake, you always knew how to ruin an emotional moment. Fuck you very much for that.

JAKE: You’re fucking welcome, Monica. It’s great to see you too.

MONICA [Deep breath]: Steve. Dear. Just give me a moment. Jake: before you voice any of your feelings. Before you vent what you think of me . . .

JAKE: Monica . . .

MONICA: Ah, tut, tut, tut. Not a word. Keep your lovely lips sealed. For now. We need to talk. About everything. I know. Yes. You’re completely right. But first. And foremost. I need time. With my son. You okay with that?

JAKE [Letting out breath]: Yes, Monica. Absolutely. I want you to have as much time as you need with Dave . . . I mean Steve.

MONICA: Dave?

JAKE: Just . . . Don’t worry about it. He’ll explain it. I’m gonna go now. Check out some of these awesome views. When you’re done . . . When you’re ready, you let me know.

MONICA: Thank you, Jake. That means a lot.

[Walking away sounds.]

DAVE: Mum . . . Is it really you?

MONICA: Yes, dear.

DAVE [Close to tears]: How are you . . . Here?

MONICA: Shh. Honey, just come here. Give me a hug. I need one really bad.

DAVE [Crying]: Okay. Me too.

[Hugging sound]

MONICA [Teary eyed]: Oh god, it’s SO good to hold you. And feel you. And breathe you in . . .

DAVE: Sameses.

MONICA [laughing]: Oh god. I haven’t heard that in SO long. That’s how I know it’s really you, Steve.

DAVE: I go by Dave now, mum.

MONICA: Oh nonsense, you’ll always be my little Stevie.

DAVE [whining, laughing]: Mum, I hate it when you call me that. And I’m serious. Can you be serious for a second. Please.

MONICA: Okay, hun. Hit me with it.

DAVE: I’m Dave now. It’s . . . It’s who I’ve been for a long time. It’s who I remember being as far back as . . . I can remember. Sort of. I do have memories of being here . . .

MONICA: The Ostium Network?

DAVE: Yes. Is that what it was called?

MONICA: What it is called. Yes. It’s still here. Even if the people aren’t.

DAVE: Right. Okay. I can remember bits and pieces. Being here. Before. With you in some of them too. It’s been coming back to me. Just bloody slowly.

MONICA: Any idea of what’s been helping? Has there been a certain trigger bringing your memories back?

DAVE: Not that I can really think of . . . I suppose it’s seeing everything here. The different places. Buildings I’ve visited before. Such as when I found my apartment. I knew instantly what my passcode was. It was . . . Thrilling.

MONICA: Okay then. I think I’ve got just the right regimen for you: for the last however many days it’s been I’ve been making a series of recordings. Some of them . . .   Parts of them I never want to ever have near your precious ears.

DAVE: I’m sure there’s a good reason for that.

MONICA: Oh honey, there sure is. And you’re not going find out. We’re leaving it at that. Capiche?

DAVE: Capish?

MONICA: It’s a saying. Italian I think. But it became popular in the English vernacular in the late twentieth century. It means understand. Get it?

DAVE: Oh yeah . . . I forgot how into that period you were. Could barely drag you out for a bite to eat or even a drink. You couldn’t get enough of it. Hey . . . I’m starting to remember it. All that time you spent in your apartment. Working and working. Learning and revising. I never bloody saw you.

MONICA: Yeah. I was in pretty deep. Fucking lost it there. Kinda.

DAVE: You know what . . . [Laughing]

MONICA [Curious]: What?

DAVE: I just had my first solid memory. Came back to me all of sudden. Of talking to that bloody photo of the two of us. Sitting in my living room talking to it. Because you were too busy. That’s fucking hilarious that is. And so bloody you!

MONICA: I’m glad you think it’s funny. To me it’s kinda sad. Actually, very sad. I’m sorry, Ste . . . Dave. I’m sorry I was like that. Treated you like that. That wasn’t right.

DAVE: Oh it was fine. I think I was doing that as more of a personal joke. So I could take the piss with you later. And thank you for calling me Dave. I know it must be hard. I know . . . I know I have my own story to tell. My own history of how I ended up here. About what happened to me over all this time . . .

MONICA: Dave. It’s okay. Take your time. You’ll get there. I don’t want you to push yourself, dear. You’ve been through so much already. Take your time. And maybe – hopefully – those recordings will help bring your memories back.

DAVE: Yeah. Let’s hope so. But how did you end up here? In the same Ostium Network as us. Of all places.

MONICA: That, my dear, is a long story. There’s also recordings of it. But to cut a long story short . . .

DAVE: Sorry to interrupt. That expression. It’s having an affect on me. Was that something you usually said when you didn’t want to talk for too long.

MONICA [Excited]: No, honey. That expression was totally you. Is totally you. You’d say it like every day. You were always in a hurry. Needing to get to your next class, your next job or chore. You hated the idea of hanging around and chatting for too long.

DAVE: Bloody hell. I sound like a right bore.

MONICA [Sarcastically]: Not . . . Completely. Once you clocked off for the day . . . Which wasn’t really applicable here. We never clocked in and clocked out technically, but come dinner time you were done with the work side of life and switched over to relaxing and having fun. That’s when you become the opposite of a bore.

DAVE: An erob?

MONICA: A what?

DAVE: An erob. It’s the opposite of a bore. Or bore spelled backwards.

MONICA [Bursts out laughing]: Oh my god, I’ve missed this so much, Steve . . . I mean Dave.

DAVE: It’s okay mum. You can call me Steve. I’ll allow it . . .

MONICA: Oh will you? Well how nice of you, fine sir, to allow your mother to call you by your given name. The name I chose for you. I remember finding you that day in the building I was working on like it was yesterday. All alone . . .

DAVE: You found me in a bloody building? I don’t remember anything about that.

MONICA: Well, you were a newborn. But it’s all in the recordings. You were just lying there in the basket, wrapped in a blanket. All baby fat and cuteness. Calm and content. I was smitten the second I saw you.

DAVE: I’m so happy I found you. I’m so happy to be here now, with you. I feel so bloody fortunate.

MONICA: Me too, love. Me too. Are we . . . Are we good?

DAVE [Thinking]: Yeah. We’re alright. And it’s going to get better. Much better. Especially if those recordings are as bloody amazing as you’ve been implying.

MONICA: Oh honey, you have no idea. Come on down the hall here, I’ve got just the place for you to listen to them.

[Two people walking away]

[PAUSE]

MONICA: So you’re datapad should be all synced up now and you can start listening to those recordings whenever you want.

DAVE: Fantastic mum, cheers.

MONICA: Have at it, while I go have a heart to heart with Mr. Jake Fisher.

DAVE: Mum?

[Silence]

DAVE: If it’s any consolation, he has forgiven you already, after everything. In his own Jake way.

MONICA: Thank you, Dave. Thank you for telling me that.

DAVE: You’re welcome, and one other thing.

[Beat]

DAVE: He still really loves you. A lot.

MONICA [Charmed surprise]: Really? [Pause] Good to know.

[Steps walking away]

[Beginning of Monica’s recording from Episode 21 fading into silence]

[PAUSE]

[Jake rehearsing lines]

JAKE: I’m sorry Monica . . . Whatever you went through, I know . . . I know you had your reasons, trust me, I’ve done stuff like that before . . . Stuff? That’s what this is? Stuff? . . . I want you to know . . .

[Arriving footsteps]

MONICA: What do you want me to know?

JAKE: Oh hey Monica, didn’t know you were coming.

MONICA: The fuck you didn’t. There’s no one else here Jake. You coulda heard me a mile away.

JAKE: You’re right. My mind was just . . . On other things.

MONICA: I’m sorry Jake. Sorry to jump on your back right away. I don’t know what you’ve been through after . . . After the blackness took you. It couldn’t have been good. Like anything fucking ever is with Ostium. But . . . I could use a hug.

JAKE: Me too. Warning: incoming hug approaching.

[Hugging sound]

[Speaking at the same time]

JAKE: I don’t know . . .

MONICA: I didn’t mean to . . .

[Silence]

[Laughter]

JAKE: You go first.

MONICA: Thank you, Jake. But not this time. I think I need to get your take first. See if there’s anything you need to get off your chest. You tell me . . . Whatever you want to tell me.

JAKE: Thank you, Monica. [Breath] I’ve . . . I’ve had a lot of time to think about . . . Everything that happened between you and I. I felt . . . I felt angry. Very angry. And cheated. And lied to.

MONICA: You were. And I’m . . . very sorry . . .

JAKE: Let me . . . Just let me finish, please. I need to get it all out. If I keep stopping I don’t know if I’ll be able to.

MONICA (QUIETLY): Sorry, Jake.

JAKE: Okay . . . I felt like the whole thing. Between you and I. The sex. The . . . Closeness we felt. It me wonder if you did it all for nothing. Just to try and get to Steve. And you didn’t give a shit about me. I felt used. It all felt pointless. And I started wondering what the hell I was even doing in Ostium. With you. Not that I could do anything about it. I was fucking stuck there. Just like you. With you.

MONICA: Again, Jake, I . . . Goddamnit. Fucking shut-up Monica. Got it.

JAKE: Thank you. You’re going to want to hear this next part. So I had all these feelings and had them all flashing before my eyes in those last moments. I knew what you’d done. I knew how you’d done it, with those crazy Michael Jackson gloves.

MONICA: [Snort]

JAKE: What? That’s what they looked like to me. I almost would’ve preferred being hit over the head repeatedly. Though I’m guessing those gloves had some ability to mess with my mind, too. So at the end there I wanted to get back at you. It felt . . . It felt fucking great to tell you when you asked me to come back to Ostium. To let you know I was abandoning you for a change. Part of me knew I had to do it. Because of the physics of it all. But another part of me wanted to do it. And then . . . When you stepped through. That’s when it finally felt like a mistake. Like I’d made the wrong choice. But it was too late by then. Also I thought I was going to die.

[Short pause]

JAKE: Some really weird shit happened to me after that. With the blackness. I’m still don’t really know what. Don’t understand it, that’s for sure. I made recordings. Tried to process it in some way. You can listen to them if you want. I don’t really want to go into it all again. It was a . . . A pretty wild and crazy trip. But I came out the other side alive. I survived. Somehow. I made it back to Roanoke. Somehow. And that’s where I found Dave.

[Short pause]

JAKE: I came out of that blackness changed, Monica. I had more . . . Control over Ostium. Over what it could do or try to do to me. To us. I could hold the blackness back with no problem. Whatsoever. It wasn’t even a threat to me anymore. Isn’t a threat, still. And I could make my own doors . . . My own ostiums happen. I still don’t understand the hows or even the whys. I just know what I’m able to do. I knew where Dave and I had to go next. And we found something. A something. Something powerful. And deadly. Dave will tell you at some point. Or you’ll hear his recordings. Of when he first came face to face with this entity. How it terrified him. It terrified me too, when I first saw it . . .

JAKE: But before that. I got us to that house in Fort Bragg. From before. Before it could be there. And before those men arrived.

MONICA (deadly serious): What. Men?

JAKE: The ones you sent through. The ones you thought were all dead. I was able to  . . . Save them, Monica. I sent them through a door. Another door. It took them back to their time. Their place. Their Ostium Network.

MONICA (astonishment): Their own timeline? They’re alive?

JAKE (happy): Yes. They all made it through the door. I don’t know if that does anything to the Ostium continuum, and I don’t fucking care at this point. They made it through. They . . . Live. And you didn’t hurt them. At all. It’s not on you anymore.

MONICA: Oh my god, Jake. That’s . . . Fucking wonderful. Whatever possessed you to do it . . . Thank you. Thank you.

JAKE: You’re welcome Monica. I still want to know what the whole story behind that is. What your whole story is . . .

MONICA: Yes . . . Yes. You will Jake. I promise. I was going to tell you at the end there, but once that artifact fell on the number everything went white and you disappeared and I was all alone.

JAKE: Okay. Good. I can go with that. But there’s more I need to say.

MONICA: Okay.

JAKE: It’s about Dave. It’s about . . . Steve.

MONICA (different delivery, hesitant): Okay.

JAKE: When we got out of Ostium . . . When we came here, I couldn’t believe I’d managed to do it. To open a door and get us both here in time. Before that thing got to us. And then it was just the two of us. In this place. All alone. Or so I thought. And that’s when Dave started remembering things about this place. Things he shouldn’t know. Unless . . . there was more to his story than he was telling me. So there was that. And then there was the white-hot anger still in me over what you did to me. How you treated me.

MONICA [Pained]: I had to Jake. For Steve.

JAKE: I know Monica. But you need to let me finish. [Pleading] Please.

MONICA: I’m sorry, Jake. Again.

JAKE: Those two . . . Cocktails of emotion . . . They started to mix. Coalesce I guess. And . . . Diffuse in a way. You said Steve was you son . . .

MONICA [Nonsense, guttural reaction]

JAKE: I know. I know. He is your son. I got that. I get that. And I suppose it was something that stuck with me. So when I met Dave, got to know him a bit, things started to make sense. For perhaps the first time in all my time in Ostium. And out of it. I didn’t know for sure. Not by any means. But in the back of my mind there was the growing possibility. A “maybe” taking shape and becoming something more substantial. What if? But it was just in the back of my mind, nothing concrete.

JAKE: At the same time I was thinking about you. Not just what you did to me. I was sort of over it already by that point . . . [Amused] No need to look so shocked, Monica.

MONICA: I just . . . I just did not expect to hear that from you Jake.

JAKE: Well, it’s true. Also that was a great pun we both missed. You know. “Shocked.” Anyway, when I got here, after it all kind of settled in that we were in Gibraltar, but a different Gibraltar to the real one, and we were all alone and had no clue what to really do next, I started thinking. About you. Trying to put myself in your shoes. What you went through. What you must’ve been thinking. I still don’t know the whole story. Your background with Ostium and before it . . .

MONICA: I know Jake. I will tell you. I . . . I ended up making my own recordings. What I thought of as personal recordings that I didn’t ever plan for anyone to ever hear. Except me. And Dave is listening to them right now. And I’ll probably be letting you listen to them too in the near future. I didn’t realize how much I needed to say, to get off my chest. Sorry for speaking for a bit here.

JAKE: It’s fine, Monica. I want to hear your side too, what happened to you.

MONICA: Well, I’ll keep it short, because I know you’re not done with what you gotta say. I . . . I don’t think I realize just how much had happened to me. How much I’d been through, from the beginning. Here. Or the other here. Whatever. And then losing Steve. And then going after Steve. And meeting you. And looking for Steve and going through so much . . . I had a lot I wanted to talk about. It felt good to say it. Real good. And I guess it was a good thing I recorded too, in a way, because I don’t have the fucking patience to spend hours and hours telling my life story to the two of you. There. I’m done.

JAKE: Thank you for that, Monica. I know it can’t be easy. Saying all this stuff. After everything you’ve been through. I know it’s a lot. A helluva lot. And you had your reasons for doing what you did. It was Steve. It was always about Steve and for Steve. I obviously haven’t had any children, but I can try and imagine what that must be like. To care for someone so completely and unquestioningly.

MONICA: It’s true. You know the expression about how you’d die for someone you love. As someone who really likes the fuck out of living, the thought of kicking the bucket is something I just never like to think about. I know I’m not the only one. But after finding and making Steve mine. Raising him and dedicating my life to him. It became obvious. I would willingly sacrifice myself for him. Throw myself in front of a moving vehicle, while pushing him out the way. Give up my life to save his. No question. And that’s never changed.

JAKE: I can understand that, Monica. You are faithful and dedicated when it comes to things you care about. And when you were using those gloves on me, everything just started falling apart and I was so angry because I didn’t understand. But now, after taking my time, because I don’t like to just dive in and decide on something based on a whim, as you know . . .

MONICA: I sure do, Jakey.

JAKE: Jakey. I don’t think I’ve heard you call me that before . . . I like it.

MONICA: I’m pretty sure you have, Jake. Kind of a more recent development, but I’m pretty sure you were there.

JAKE: No . . . It’s not ringing any bells. It’s something I’d definitely take notice of.

MONICA: Are you sure? I could’ve sworn . . . Oh no. You’re right, Jakey. I only started calling you that when I was hearing your voice in my head while I was trying to get myself the fuck out of Ostium.

JAKE (confusion): Voice in your head?

MONICA: Don’t read too much into it. The stress I was under, hearing you seems perfectly logical. It’s all in the recordings.

JAKE: Okay then. Well, I do like it. Feel free to call me that anytime.

MONICA: Will do.

JAKE: Anyway, after thinking it all over. Thinking it real hard. What you did was understandable. You’re one goal, no matter what, was to find and protect Steve. That was always what you were doing. Right?

MONICA: Yes, Jake. It was. But also what happened between us . . . [breath] . . . It did help me do what I thought I needed to do. What I thought was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t just that. The sex was . . . A natural . . . Act. It happened because we were both consenting and willing, regardless of what I thought I needed to do to get to Steve. And . . . Over that time you became important to me. A lot more important. I didn’t ever plan on that happening, or expecting it to happen. And you were having those nightmares and I thought it could help. But if I could go back and change all this from happening again . . . I don’t think I would. Because it wouldn’t be the same between us. What happened between us wouldn’t happen the same. And I don’t want that.

JAKE [determined]: No. I don’t want that either, Monica. I . . . [laughing] I fucking love what happened between us. It was magical. And special. And fun. And . . . Extremely pleasurable. It was fucking . . . It is fucking great. If it still is. Between us.

[Stepping closer together, voices softer]

MONICA: I still want it to be. Do you, Jake?

JAKE: Yes, Monica. Very much so.

MONICA: Jake, I think I . . .

JAKE [cutting her off]: I love you Monica. After everything, that hasn’t changed. I knew I was falling in love with you. And I know I still love you now.

MONICA: Jake. That’s beautiful. And thanks for cutting a girl off when she’s about to say it. Weren’t you taught any manners? I fucking love you to, Jake. And I still love you. Can I get a kiss?

[Kissing sound, then hugging]

JAKE: Shall we go check on your son?

MONICA: Yeah, I think so. He’s had enough time to get caught up.

JAKE: So is he Steve or Dave to you?

MONICA: He says he wants to be Dave for now, though he said I could call him Steve. But that may change in time. I don’t know. Once he remembers his whole story and tells it . . . Things may change. And he’ll always be Steve in my heart.

JAKE: Oh, and one more question, and please don’t hit me after I ask this, but if he’s your son and he looks maybe five years younger than me, ten tops, how old does that make you?

[Punching sound]

JAKE: Ouch . . . I deserved that.

[PAUSE]

[Sounds of Monica’s recording]

DAVE: Bloody hell, mum . . . You’ve been through a lot . . . And I thought I was the one who’d had the wild ride . . . Runs in the family, apparently . . . And it sounds like we’re about at the end of your little adventure . . . Wait a minute. What is this place? Where the hell did you leave me, mum? Looks like . . . Well, I dunno. Like I’m standing in the control tower at Gatwick, only there’s no planes, and no one’s here, and everything’s turned off. Yeah, makes perfect sense. After all, we are at the top of the rock of Gibraltar. Where else would plonk your HQ? Views in every bloody direction, no? So let’s see here . . . What looks like it might be the on button.

[Footsteps]

DAVE: Okay. These look like different work stations. They all look pretty much the same. A chair and a panel of some sort. I suppose there’s a secret and logical way to activate them. So if I wanted to be the main one that runs them all, the big boss, where would I be? How about opposite that doorway over there. So . . . All the way over here then. Alright. This one does look bigger than the other ones. Let’s have a gander then.

[Creaking chair]

Where would I put the power button? Let’s try running the hands along the surface. Maybe I’ll feel something and . . . Nope. Does sod all. Anything underneath it? Or on the floor maybe? Two nos there. Okay, Dave, let’s try some lateral thinking here. Outside the box, as the cliche goes. So . . . It’s the future here. Rig ht? Obviously. So this is some very futuristic technology. Not your garden variety personal computer. And all the work stations look the same. A flat, shiny surface. No apparent buttons or switches or toggles or anything. It’s blemish free. Sort of reflective. Meaning it’s not actually for typing on or even touching. Okay. Yeah. Makes sense. So what is it for then? Come on brain. It’s . . . It’s . . . It’s for projecting? Perhaps. Think you might be on to something there. Yeah. Projects up perhaps to just above. Right in front of my mug. Yeah. Right. That does make sense. So if that’s the case, I need to figure out how one activates it. Erm . . .

COMPUTER: ON!

ACTIVATE SYSTEMS!

POWER . . . ON!

POWER . . . UP?

Nope, not working at all. Well, if this is some sort of projection and I actually wanted to use this right now, I’d lift my arms up and stick my hands out like this . . .

[Beat]

[Beeping sounds, electronic sounds]

Holy. Fucking. Shit. I can’t believe that worked. It is projected. I was bloody right. It’s just like that film that mum made me watch. The scifi flick with what’s his name . . . Erm, erm . . . Don’t tell me . . . Tom Cruise. Yeah, that’s it. And it was called . . . Mental drum roll please . . . Erm . . . Minority Report! Yes, we have a winner! And the crowd goes wild! That was it. I can remember that distinctly and fondly, I might add, in mum’s apartment far below where I now am. Both on the sofa with . . . Maybe popcorn? Can’t quite remember. Doesn’t seem quite right. But if anywhere would have popcorn, seems like this place would. And . . .  And . . . And . . . Oh my god! I just had an actual memory from here. With mum. It’s clear and solid in my mind, like it really happened. Because it did! It did really happen. I was here with her before. And it’s all starting to come back to me now. Oh, this is so wonderful. Fantastic!

Anyway, let’s get back to this mainframe we just hacked into . . . Well, sort of. So what have we got here. Some drop down menus, your basic introductory layout for when you first get in. What’s this here at the end. Windows? As in Microsoft? I bloody doubt it. And when I hit the drop-down we get one option . . . OPEN.

[Beat]

Let’s give it a shot.

[Mechanical opening sounds]

Holy shit! The shutters are all opening. All around me. Good job I’m not a vampire. I’d be a pile of ashes by now. Unbelievable. I can see all the way down the mountain. It’s incredible. Gorgeous. Also can’t deny the fact that I feel considerably like Big Brother sitting up here in my tower. Oh look, here come Jake and mum.

DAVE: Hiya guys!

JAKE: Hi Dave, looks like you found a way to open things up here.

DAVE: You better bloody believe it. I got the computer system working. Look.

MONICA: Looks a lot like Minority Report.

DAVE: That’s exactly what I thought. I remember that film, mum. Us two seeing it together.

MONICA: That’s great dear.

JAKE: I love that movie. You know when the movie was made that tech didn’t exist yet, but the guy who came up with the concept patented it and then invented it, and then it was real.

DAVE: Really?

JAKE: Yep.

MONICA: Ah, Jake. You never fail to disappoint. Nerdalert!

JAKE [amused]: I try.

DAVE: And looks like you two patched things up then. Judging by those hands holding each other? God, that’s a bloody weird way to say it.

MONICA: Yes, Dave. We did. And that was fucking weird.

JAKE: So did you find anything else out with the computer display?

DAVE: No. Haven’t had a chance yet. I just worked out how to lift up the shutters, and that’s as far as I got.

MONICA: I did it by pressing that button over there.

DAVE: Oh shit, didn’t see that one. Would’ve been a lot easier. Anyway, let’s have a gander.

JAKE: Look at that menu. MAINFRAME. Sounds important.

MONICA [sarcastic]: You think?

DAVE: Okay, let’s see. Gives me one option: ACCESS. And . . .

ROBOT VOICE: Voice authentication required.

DAVE: Erm . . . Let us in please?

ROBOT VOICE: Access denied. Voice authentication required.

MONICA: Monica Chase. Ostium Network.

ROBOT VOICE: Access denied. Voice authentication required.

DAVE: Go on Jake, have a go. I know it’s pointless since you’re the last person to ever end up here, but what can it hurt?

JAKE: Okay. Ahem . . . Jake Fisher. Er . . . Ostium Network.

[Short pause]

DIFFERENT ROBOT VOICE: Access granted. Welcome, Jake Fisher, to the Ostium Network.

EPISODE 35 – SKYLAND MOUNTAIN

[MONICA:]

I don’t know how much time passes. The booming sound is long gone. Still don’t know what the fuck it’s all about. And for the moment I’m not going to worry. I’ve got enough shit to deal with.

I keep staring at those grooves in the dust. Are they really incontrovertible proof? Was someone else truly here? Yeah. Of course someone was. But the important question is . . . When? This is the Ostium Network after all. Time is always fucking relevant.

So . . . The frame could’ve been moved what . . . Years ago maybe? Nah. Too long. The dust wouldn’t look like that. So weeks maybe? Months? Possibly. Not too many of them though.

Or . . . It got taken a couple days ago? Or a day? Hours?

Minutes?

And that’s when that fear shoots up inside me again and this time it drives me to my feet.

Yeah. I . . . Entertained the idea of staying here tonight. Because it’s Steve’s place. But now . . . Nuh-uh, not happening.

I’m heading back to my place.

[Short pause]

It’s on the quick ride over in the EV that I realize where I need to go next. The place I need to check out tomorrow. Somewhere I’ve never been before, even when this place was swarming with people.

I can’t help looking up at the top of the rock of Gibraltar as I’m thinking about this.

[PAUSE]

[DAVE:]

When we get back to my place .  . . Because that’s what it is, if you haven’t caught on yet. Can’t remember if I said it in so many words. But I notice right away that the front door is now closed. It wasn’t like that when we left. I remember. I remember looking back at Jake, watching him make sure it was ajar.

I reach up to type in my code to let us in, looking at Jake. He looks just as worried as me.

Bloody brilliant.

I take a deep breath just as the door unlocks and pops open. I charge up the stairs, ready for anything, and scared of bloody everything. My heart’s pounding like I just chugged a pint of very strong coffee. But my worries are all for naught, I discover, once I’m upstairs and looking around. Jake’s right behind me; my very necessary backup. But we don’t find anyone here.

Safe for now, at least.

We both let out heavy sighs.

JAKE: “Okay, I’m going throw some grub together, in the meantime, you . . . Collect your thoughts, and we’ll go over what’s been going on with you.”

DAVE: “Sounds good mate.”

Jake makes supper too bloody quickly for my liking. It felt like I just sat down and then there he was with two plates of steaming food. Pasta. And some sort of tomato sauce. Good enough for me. He puts the plates down and I start eating. He returns with a couple glasses of water and starts eating as well.

He gives me at least five minutes, which is very decent of the chap; gives me time to gobble down my food, let out a very loud burp, and then get settled, nestling the glass of water in my hands.

DAVE: “I . . . I lied to you before . . .”

JAKE: “What? Why . . .”

DAVE: “Just . . . Just let me say my piece. I’ll explain why. What I mean. I had my reasons. Just listen for now. We’ll have a Q&A session after the lecture, okay?”

JAKE [not happy]: “Sure man.”

DAVE: “I lied about never having been to Gibraltar before. Honestly, my memory has been an absolute pile of shit since we came through here. So I’ve got that going for me. I suppose. But as more time goes by, the more I feel I remember. It feels like my memory is coming back to me in dribs and drabs.

“I’m sorry for lying to you, Jake. The first time I came to Gibraltar was on holiday. I was spending a package deal in Spain and thought I’d visit a piece of foreign Britain. There was . . . Nothing remarkable about it. It was perfectly normal in every way.”

I pause, drinking some water. Clearing my throat.

“But that was another time. Long ago. Jake: I remember being here more recently. A lot more recently. I had no clue at first, when we arrived. But as each hour . . . bloody hell: as each minute goes by I remembering more and more. I remember lots of people here; I was one of many. Thousands it felt like. And we all had jobs to do. We were working together. Learning together. We were in lots of classes, being taught about time and time travel and . . . Ostium. How it started. How it got made. How we were going to use it. A lot of the details are still quite fuzzy, but I’ve got at least a general idea about it all. The gist, you know.”

Jake’s nodding at me, trying to control the shock on his face. Honestly, I can’t blame him.

“I can remember . . . I can remember the ones in charge asking if I’d like to be the first one to go through. To try Ostium. To get to the town and go through one of the doors, come back, and tell them all about it. We’d been training and learning for months. At least six months, I think. I was so bloody anxious to actually do something. I know I should’ve thought about it some more. Taken more time and talked about it with my mum.”

JAKE: “Your mom?”

DAVE: “Yeah, she was here with me, in Gib. We got hired pretty much at the same time and arrived here on the same boat. Something . . . Something weird happened when we took that boat. I can’t quite remember what. But something . . . Special happened to get us to this unique place. To this Gibraltar. This island. It’s not . . . Well, I think you know this already. But it’s not a normal place. Not naturally occurring, if you catch my drift.”

JAKE: “Yeah. I know. There’s something very . . . Similar about this place and Ostium.”

DAVE: “No bloody kidding.”

JAKE: “So do you remember what happened? How you got into Ostium? How the whole EMU thing came about?”

DAVE: “EMU? Oh, bloody hell. No . . . No, I don’t remember any of that yet. Let’s see. At the moment, all I can remember is them all giving me the okay and stepping through that door. The one we were looking at earlier, in the funny looking room.”

JAKE: “The one that looked like a deadly virus containment facility?”

DAVE: “Yeah. That one. They gave me the okay and I stepped through and . . . I can’t remember anything after at. Yet. I really hope it starts coming back to me. It’s . . . It’s honestly starting to turn my stomach a bit. I want some fucking answers.”

[short pause]

JAKE: “I feel you, Dave. I know where you’re coming from.”

DAVE: “Thank you Jake. It means a lot to hear you say that. And to have you hear it all. I’d be barkers if I was here on my own.”

JAKE: “But Dave, how can you be so sure this is the place? You’ve got memories of it, sure, and you somehow managed to get into this apartment. But you don’t exactly sound fully confident of your faculties. How do you know this Gibraltar, this island is the same place?”

The moment of truth. I knew it was coming. And this was the right time.

DAVE: “Because I didn’t do anything special to break in to this place. I didn’t hack that terminal or randomly type in the exact number. I knew what the number was because I remember setting it when I first moved in. I remember being told how to set the pass code and choosing those random numbers. And they worked.”

JAKE: “Huh. Okay then.”

DAVE: “That’s not everything though. I also have a piece of undeniable evidence.”

Jake is watching me intently now. I pull out the small framed photograph from my trousers and put it in his hands.

He looks at it. His eyelids half close, frown lines forming on his forehead. Then the lines suddenly disappear and the eyes become huge egg-sized things and I think his eyes are going to fall out of their sockets.

Then he looks up at me and his look makes me feel scared. The sort of fear that makes you feel cold inside.

JAKE [in shock]: “Dave . . . This . . . is you . . .”

DAVE: “I know.”

JAKE: [still shocked]: “And . . . Who’s the woman beside you?”

DAVE: “That’s my mum. She was here with me, remember?”

JAKE [utter incomprehension]: “Dave . . . That’s Monica.”

[Pause]

[MONICA:]

I barely remember what I chow down for breakfast. I don’t make my bed, even though I did so religiously every morning I was here. I just get myself ready and set out.

I did remember to charge the EV last night. Took a little while to work out where everything was, but they showed us how to before. The knowhow was still there. So come this morning, it’s all ready to go. I take a few minutes to think. To wonder if I need anything, for where I’m going. Food? Supplies? Nah. Not really. It’s not like I’m going to be staying where I’m going. But I do take one important item: the gun.

The ride over is a mixed bag. Half of it is lovely. Fresh, clean sea air. A gorgeous sunrise. As that yellow ball climbs higher, it gets deliciously warmer. It makes me feel . . . For the moment at least . . . Happy. Sort of. Happy to be here. In a way. Happy to be somewhere nice for a fucking change. Somewhere I might want to call home. Somewhere I have called home before. Somewhere familiar and comforting.

Of course. It’s just me here. All by my fucking lonesome. I’d like that to change. Scratch that. I really want some goddamn company here. Anybody would be okay. Someone nice preferred.

Ahh, well . . .

Enough rhapsodizing on what I don’t have. What can’t be.

Now we’ve reached the other half of the journey. The half that’s more of a question and I gotta concentrate. Because I haven’t really been in this area much before. They showed us, like, once. Way, way back in the early days. Fortunately, I still remember. It’s kinda hidden too. So I navigate the EV down alleys. Make turns here and there.

Just when I’m starting to think I took a wrong one, I see it. Standing there. Ready and waiting for someone to use.

[Short pause]

We call it the cable car. Always have. Always will. There’s a bunch of damn names for it. Fancy sounding ones, like “aerial lift.” Or scientific sound ones, like “aerial tramway.” “Gondola lift” is another. They called it the cable car here, so that’s what I called it. It’s what we all called it. We all saw it. Going up and down. Couple times a day. Sometimes lots of times a day. Not that it mattered that much. None of us ever fucking went on it. No . . . The only peeps that got to ride the cable car were the special ones high up on the totem pole. Got to ride it all the way to the top of the rock. That’s what they told us during that introductory tour.

How many of these special people are there? How many of them are white dudes? Those details weren’t given. It was also clear it wasn’t worth asking. We weren’t going to be given those sorts of answers.

I watched it. A number of times. The cable car. It was kinda relaxing to do. Watch it make its slow way all the way up there. And each time I did I thought about who was in the car. What were they like? Were they nice people? Not so nice? Did they even care about all of us down here?

I knew then I’d never know. I know now too.

But one thing is about to change . . . Assuming I can get the fucking thing working.

How hard can it be?

[Short pause]

I try the door to the little house at the bottom of the rock. From its roof erupts two sets of cables reaching high up to the top of the rock, like . . . Really long strings that have been attached to arrows and shot up to the peak. Yeah. Pretty shitty simile, I know. Jakey’s the one for those. Along the way up the mountain are pylons holding up the cables.

The door’s locked. This stops me for just a few seconds. Guess they usually kept this place guarded or something. The door’s nothing special. I lash out with a couple stiff kicks just to the right of the handle. They cause enjoyable crunching sounds. One more and the door swings open.

I step inside a kind of atrium . There are glass doors on the other side that I get open much easier. They open onto the staging area and there’s the cable car looking like something a little bigger than a van but too small to be called a bus. From the top of it extends the connector to the cable above it.

Okay. Good. There’s the important part. The part that’s going to get me to the top of the rock. Now it’s time to figure out how this sucker works.

Doesn’t take me long to find the control room. And everything’s labeled. Fucking-A! Someone was smart in setting this up. Or at least helpful. And what have we here . . . A damn instruction manual. How goddamn useful is that?

And what’s this? A quick pointer sheet on how to operate the cable car?

Don’t mind if I do.

I start pressing buttons, turning knobs, and flicking switches. There are groans and creaks and then things start moving. A humming sound builds.

We’re in business.

I complete the checklist. Think about getting into the cable car to see if I can get it moving and stop myself. I keep checking the instruction manual. There’s another page with another checklist. For operating the fucking cable car while riding it. That page gets torn out and is coming with me.

[Short pause]

Okay. Standing at the door to the cable car.

Here goes.

[Door sliding open]

I step inside and expect it to move. Like a boat on water. It doesn’t. Stays perfectly still, like it doesn’t even know I’m standing on it. I slide the door closed. Make sure it’s locked and secure. There’s a panel beside the door with instructions on this too.

Damn, they’re making this easy.

I . . . I really fucking appreciate it. Thanks big wigs.

I walk over to the operating station and whip out my cheat sheet. I flick a switch and press a few buttons, then I hold my breath.

Here fucking goes . . .

I press one more button, then put my hand on the accelerator: a big knob with a speed dial above it. I turn it slowly. A digital number tells me my increasing speed. Once it gets past one, the cable car starts moving. I jam the cheat sheet in a cubby underneath the control panel and grab hold of a very well placed handle next to me.

I’m not taking any risks.

The cable car moves out of the . . . Station? House? Whatever the fuck it is . . . And starts ascending.

I’ve regained my balance and my confidence is starting to come back. Good. Not sure about my bravery. I recall the recommended speeds on the instructions and slowly turn the knob. The cable car moves faster, up to fifteen kilometers an hour. Not really that fast, but in a glass box on its way to the sky, it feels fucking fast enough, let me tell you.

I approach the first pylon and remember the instructions, slowing the cable car down to 5 KPH. As the connector above the cable car passes over the pylon, there’s a clanking sound. And everything shakes

It’s normal the instructions say.

It doesn’t relax me at all.

I’m also remembering one of those X-Files episodes I watched. There were a lot of them. One of the early ones with the guy. Fox Mulder wasn’t it? Riding a cable car. Trying to catch up with someone. He kept pushing the cable car to top speed and barely slowing it down when it approached the pylons. I remember the billboard in the episode: Skyland Mountain. Ascend to the Stars.

I ain’t going to be taking any of those risks.

Past the pylon, the cable car speeds up to a normal 15 KPH, and now I finally start to relax. I look around, through the windows, and admire the view of the island of Gibraltar opening up before me.

It’s quite breathtaking.

[PAUSE]

[JAKE:]

I’m awake and up. It’s a new day in this strange, new place. I wake up in a strange bed, but I slept like a baby. It felt really damn good to get to sleep in an actual bed. I know I’d been sharing the bed in Ostium with Monica, but there’s something to be said about enjoying a queen-sized bed all by yourself. And after the last twenty-four or forty-eight or however many hours its been since the blackness swallowed up my world, I really needed a good rest. I feel alive and rejuvenated.

So it’s time to start brooding. Well, no so much brooding. But some deep, introspective thinking about . . . No. It’s brooding.

Dave. Is. Monica’s. Son.

Dave. Is. Steve.

It’s a big fucking deal. All that time. All that looking. All that suffering. And he’s here. He’s found. He’s with me. But Monica isn’t. And he was Dave all along. Somehow. No. I don’t get it. Not one bit. And I’m not going to try to right now. It’s too much. Too much to process. Too much to try and comprehend.

Dave’s . . . Should I still call him that? Should I tell him his name’s actually Steve? And then why does he think he’s called Dave?

Anyway, Dave’s still sleeping out on the couch, I can hear him snoring. I look out the window and see the sun’s making its way up into the sky. It’s well into morning. I’m going to need to get Dave up soon. We need to keep checking this place out. See if we can find anything that might help us. Something that will help explain all of this. What happened here.

I decide I need a breath of fresh air and sneak down the stairs, quiet enough not to wake Dave. I open the front door and leave it ajar so I can get back in with no issues. I think I remember the number Dave said was the passcode, but I still don’t really trust all this. Not completely.

Outside the air feels fresh and wonderful. I walk into the street, taking deep lungfuls. It feels so great, waking me right up. I can’t help looking at my surroundings. My eyes studying the buildings I can see, then casting over to the rock, following its ascension to the peak. And then I see movement.

What the fuck?

I don’t understand it at first. It takes some time. Then I realize what I’m looking at. It’s the cable car. I can remember that. Doing some reading when I was younger on Gibraltar and how the town has a cable car that takes you to the top of the Rock. You know: to check out the views, and the monkeys. So I shouldn’t be that surprised to see it there. The cables swooping down the mountain like big electrical wires. Except . . .

Except the cable car is moving. I can see it from where I’m standing. It’s far away, almost to the top. But it’s definitely moving.

And that means someone’s probably on it.

Just. Great.

[Short pause]

I get ready to go back inside and wake up Dave, to give him the [sarcastic] truly great news.

Do I still call him Dave? Or Steve? What’s right? Last night when I told him that was Monica in the photo he didn’t believe what I was saying.

DAVE: “You what? You must be bloody kidding.”

JAKE: “No Dave. I’m deadly fucking serious. That’s Monica in that photo. And I can see you too. That means she’s your mom. You’re her son.”

DAVE: [Silence at first] We ARE talking about the same Monica here? Aren’t we? The one you’ve been gallivanting all over the place with? The one who was . . . Seducing and attacking you with those things so you’d stay in line?

JAKE: [Silence] Uhm.

DAVE: [Cutting Jake off] The one who was always looking for bloody Steve who we all thought was her boyfriend, but who was really her fucking son. Who was really . . . Me!

JAKE: [Breath] Yes. Dave. That is what this all appears to be.

DAVE: [Angry] Does it!

JAKE: [Quietly] Yes. It’s . . . It’s the one thing I’ve never been able to find out until now. Absolute proof. Undeniable. Unquestionable.

DAVE: What? This?

JAKE: Yes. It’s you. It’s Monica. In the background is the rock. This place. You were here. With her. Your mother. And she was also with me. And you – Dave – went on your own journey, and you found Ostium – or maybe it found you – and then you found me. And then we both got here. Where you were before. When you were Steve. When you were here with your mom. With Monica.

Dave’s looking down at the photo. I’m not sure what’s going through this mind. Inside me my heart’s racing. This is so incredible. I don’t really know what to think. Does he remember being Steve? What changed?

He looks up at me.

DAVE: I don’t know, Jake. It’s a fucking lot to process.

JAKE: Yes. It is.

DAVE: Look. It’s late. I’m bloody knackered. Let’s get to bed. I’ll sleep on the sofa tonight. Maybe sleep will help me take all this in a bit better.

JAKE: Okay, Dave. That sounds good. Do you still want me to call you Dave? Or Steve? I don’t . . . Really know. It’s what you want that’s important.

DAVE: I don’t know either, Jake, to be honest. I can remember things, being here, but I don’t really remember being too different at all. Not being me. Being Steve. So let’s keep to Dave for now.

JAKE: Sounds good.

DAVE: Jake? Are we ever going to find my mum? Are we ever going to find Monica?

JAKE: I don’t know Dave. I just don’t know. But if there’s anything I’ve learned with Ostium and everything that’s happened to each of us, it’s that wherever we are, there’s always a chance.

DAVE: Good answer. Night night.

JAKE: Goodnight Dave. Sleep well.

[Short pause]

I run up the stairs, thinking I’m going to have to shake Dave awake if he’s not up already. I find the couch empty when I make it to the top, a piled blanket at one end. Where the hell is he? I then see him over at the window. He’s staring at something; eyes wide in astonishment. I walk over to him and follow his angle of sight and discover he’s seen the cable car too.

Finally he breaks his stare and looks at me.

DAVE: Who the fuck is that?

JAKE: I have no idea. But we’re going to find out.

His eyes somehow widen a little more.

DAVE: Are you . . . Are you sure that’s a wise idea?

JAKE: Oh, it’s definitely not. But I don’t think we can go about our day checking out other buildings, while there’s someone riding that cable car to the top of the mountain. Or riding it down to come find us. I’m just not going to feel comfortable going about our business today knowing there could be someone watching us behind our backs. Or coming at us without our knowing.

DAVE: You’re fucking right, mate. Okay. I’m scared shitless and it’s the last thing in the world I want to do. But you’re right.

I put a warm palm on his shoulder.

JAKE: I’m scared shitless too, man. Now let’s rip the band-aid off and deal with this.

DAVE: You what?

JAKE: Er . . . Never mind. I’ll explain it on the way.

[PAUSE]

[MONICA:]

It’s a very enjoyable ride. Rising up and up. Ever higher. Getting to look back and down on this very strange island. It’s surreal. Not as surreal as it could be. I’ve spent time here before. Know the lay of the land, so to speak. But seeing it from way up here. It’s pretty trippy. And beautiful. Looking down at all the little buildings below. The streets and lanes between them. Like arteries and veins. Only there’s no life blood here. It’s all dried up. Dessicated.

And that’s when I fucking see something I can’t believe. It can’t be real, can it?

I know I’ve been hearing some weird shit. Those goddamn explosions. Who knows what they’re about.

Could there be someone else here? Somehow? This place definitely had the “Ostium vibe” when I arrived. Polar opposite to how it was before.

But I’m seeing the proof right now. Undeniable. Unless that EV’s driving itself.

Okay, for just a moment. An iota, as Jakey would say. In this place of all places. That’s a maybe. A possibility. But I’m not buying it. Not a bit. There’s a someone or someones in that vehicle down there. And looks like they’re headed my way. Via the cable car station.

Let the games begin, I guess.

Part of me is happy to know I’ve got company, and another part of me, a big part, is fucking terrified.

I turn around and see I’m not too far off my last stop. I went over the last pylon already, slowing down, then speeding up. Got the hang of it now. Actually, the end is coming up real fast. I’ve got a matter of seconds. And I didn’t check the instructions on how to stop this flying umbrella.

Yes. That’s a reference. Look it up.

So I drop the speed down to five KPH which is as slow as it’ll go without flicking switches I don’t know anything about. Shoulda done my homework. But it’s slow enough for me to make it work. I slide open the door. Holding on to the rails. There’s still one heck of a drop. I’m not taking any chances. The cable car slides into the opening of the station like a Pez candy into a Pez dispenser.

Yeah. That simile was fucking terrible. And yeah. You can pick your favorite Pez dispenser.

I get ready to leap through the door and onto the platform . . . Except there’s a fucking gate. And it’s closed! Time to adjust the plan of attack a little . . . And now we’re out of time.

I leap through the doorway, grabbing onto the railing with both hands, which rattles around like something electrified, and throw myself sideways. Once my body’s clear of the rail, I let go and twist with it, letting the momentum carry me in the turn. I land on my feet, bending my knees.

I stick the landing.

No sweat.

I hold my position for a minute. Catching my breath. Then I’m up and moving around. Meanwhile the cable car has done is revolution and is out the station and on its way back down to the town below. All ready for some fresh passengers.

Just fine and fucking dandy.

Can’t think about that now. They’ll presumably be up here at some point. Joining me. But I still got some time.

I open the door of the cable car station and step into a big room. It’s covered and well shielded and insulated. I get the sense of a bunker or fallout shelter. The sort of place an important person in power would need to go during a strike.

It’s quiet here. Silence is swallowed up. Absorbed by the thick walls. Not letting anything out. Not letting anything in.

I stroll down the hallway to solid metal.

My footsteps don’t echo.

[PAUSE]

[DAVE:]

It takes us a good long while to find the bloody platform where the cable car’s supposed to be. We thought we were doing just fine. Trudging along. We could see the big wires that carry the cable cars, even if we couldn’t actually see said cable cars. We could see where they came down to earth, so to speak. So we headed in that general direction. We got close. Bloody close. Or so we thought. Then we hit our first dead end. We went back and tried again. Then we found a bloody great big building blocking the way. So we went back and tried again.

On the eighth try we had success!

I let Jake lead the way. You know: to absorb any oncoming fire.

We step into a sort of waiting room. Jake points out the door. There’s some splintered wood around the lock. Yeah. Definitely a break-in.

JAKE: Someone probably attacked it with their feet.

I look at him in absolute confusion for a few seconds and then realize what he’s going on about.

DAVE: Oh, right. Gotcha.

On the other side of the waiting room are glass doors and they’re open. We step through and now we’re on the platform. There’s a big U-shaped hole in the center where the cable car’s supposed to go and turn around. Only, there’s no cable car right now. But we can hear the sound of machinery. Everything’s on apparently and working.

Jake is looking up the mountain and points to a distant cable car making its way down towards us.

DAVE: I hope there’s no one on that.

JAKE: No, I don’t think so. It looks empty from here, and whoever was on it was probably riding it up. It’s empty now. All ready for us.

DAVE: [Sarcastically] Bloody brilliant.

[PAUSE]

[MONICA:]

I get to the end of the hallway and find another doorway. It’s a sliding door. One of those fancy ones where the door slides into the wall and kinda disappears. We didn’t have anything like that back down below. Makes sense. For the bigwigs up here. To have all the fancy shit.

Would I have wanted a cool sliding metal door for the front door of my apartment? Fuck no. But I woulda liked the option.

I step into the room and it’s pretty dark. I can see a few pinprick lights here and there, but nothing that tells me what it is. I can’t even make out shapes. I pull out my datapad and find the flashlight option. The darkness is torn apart by a bright white beam and suddenly I can see what the hell is around me. It’s . . . A . . . Fucking control tower. Machinery. Everywhere. Consoles. Racks along walls. And I can see many more little lights now. Greens. Reds. Blues. Oranges. And more.

I shine the light around. I see a light switch on the wall. Now why the hell didn’t I try that when I walked in?

It’s a big switch. Almost a toggle. Takes a good bit of effort to lift up. There’s a loud, echoey metallic sound. Like something dropped. Then the room is bathed in light.

Wow. Now that’s much better. And yep. Just as I thought. This is a watchtower. All those conspiratorial ideas we were having way down below were 100% correct.

I can now see a single button on one of the consoles is lit up in a orangey-yellow. It’s thick and attending-demanding. Taking the bait I press on the damn thing.

 If I thought it was bright before, I find myself covering my eyes as the metallic shutters rattle up and reveal giant windows all around except for the doorway I came in through.

Holy shit. I can see everything from here. Literally everything. An almost three hundred and sixty degree view. I can see down below, way down to the town and the buildings and the many streets. I can look out far to the horizon. Nothing but ocean and more ocean it looks like. Though I guess if this is still the Mediterranean, it’s all sea. Jakey would correct me on that. Sea as far as the eye can see. He’d laugh at that too.

And now I can see the cable car. Just about to come into the station. Well, then. That fun time was short lived. Time to face the fucking music.

[PAUSE]

[JAKE:]

We don’t know how to stop it, so it’s all about timing. Fortunately the cable car is going slow. Damn slow. So it isn’t that big of a deal. We watched as it makes its U-turn, and then we’re ready by the railing. The door is open. Makes it even easier. Whoever used it last has been courteous. Or in a hurry. I hop on as soon as I have the chance, and Dave is right behind me, actually running in to me.

I kind of slip over to the far side of the cable car.

Then we’re out of the station and beginning our ascension. Dave doesn’t waste time, throwing the sliding door closed. That makes things feel a lot safer in here.

I walk over to the control panel, looking at the various dials and switches, not knowing if I should do anything. I wonder if there were any instructions? I look around, then below, finding a small cubby underneath. There’s a piece of paper there. A page of instructions. I shit you not. Awesome!

Dave is at my side as I’m reading how to operate the cable car.

JAKE: Here goes. Hold on to something.

Dave does and I accelerate the car to 15 kilometers per hour. When I reach the first pylon, I dropped it to 5 KPH, then speed it back up again. Having me focus on operating the car does wonders to make me not have to deal with the fact that we’re getting higher and higher and as I might’ve mentioned once or twice before, I’m not a big fan of heights.

Dave meanwhile is at the far end of the car, looking at the window and taking in the splendor laid out below. I’m sure it’s beautiful, but right now I have to focus on operating the cable car. You know. For our safety and all.

[PAUSE]

[MONICA:]

I haven’t got long. A matter of minutes. Got choices to make. Gotta be quick. Do I fire first? Do I take down whoever I see? Or do I give them a chance? A hope? I dunno right now. It depends if they’re pointing anything my way. Depends on who the fuck they are.

I draw out my little pistol. I haven’t had to use it yet. I hope that streak continues.

[PAUSE]

[DAVE:]

We’re coming into the station now. Right where whoever was riding this car got off before. Presumably. We can’t take any chances. Jake is carrying out the instructions on the piece of paper. The cable car is coming to a complete stop. He’s managed to break off a thin piece of metal from inside the car. It didn’t look important. Nothing bad happened when he did it. And now he’s got himself a makeshift weapon. And I’ve got the little gun. I draw it from my pocket and look at it. The last time I used it was to kill someone I didn’t want to shoot. I hope this time I don’t have to use it to kill someone I know I need to kill.

[PAUSE]

[MONICA:]

I’m standing in the doorway. The cable car has stopped. Whoever’s on it must’ve looked at the instructions. They must be pretty smart too, or at least able to read. Can’t trust them though. I make a snap decision and shut off the lights. It plunges the room and the hallway into mostly darkness.

With the gun pointed at the opposite end, I start walking.

[PAUSE]

[JAKE:]

We’ve stepped off the cable car and can’t see anyone on the platform. I feel more than helpless with this pathetic piece of metal, but it’s all I’ve been able to salvage on such short time. This time I make a hand gesture for Dave to go first. No talking from here on out. We might be heard. Dave nods and walks in front. We reach the doorway that leads to a dark corridor. He steps through and I follow. We stop and wait.

It takes a while. But then I hear it. Slow footsteps. Coming closer. Dave hears them too. He starts walking down the hallway. I don’t know what the hell his plan is but I stay close behind him. He must have something in mind.

He’s reaching into his pocket for something. I can hear the rustling. The footsteps are coming closer now, as we draw nearer to the person.

[PAUSE]

[MONICA:]

They’re coming nearer. There’s two of them. I can’t tell if they’re armed. Probably got something. It’s your classic standoff. Only I’m really fast at the draw. Fuck. I’ve already drawn. I just need something to pull the trigger at. I’ve brought out my datapad. My finger is ready on the flashlight button.

[PAUSE]

[DAVE:]

I’ve got my datapad out. I don’t know who’s coming towards us, but I want to see them before I try anything. Before I shoot them. If I have to. I know there’s a torch option in the menu. There it is. Got to wait for the right time.

We’ve very close now. And so are they.

[PAUSE]

[Simultaneously DAVE and MONICA:] I turn the light on.

[Single laser gun shot.]

EPISODE 34 – NEW DIGS

[JAKE:]

That meal was exquisite. The quintessential cliche: a meal fit for a king. And I was full. Satiated. I didn’t want another bite. I tried to remember a meal on par with this and the first thing that comes to mind is that lunch Monica and I had in Covelo. Yeah, that was a good meal. Almost as good as this one. Except I’m with different people. And would I be okay sitting here, in this strange place with Monica? Or Dave and Monica? The three of us? After everything that’s happened between me and her. After everything she did. To me. And everything that happened . . . After. With her. And to me . . .

Would I still want her here, with me right now?

[Short Pause]

[Breath]

[Strong, decisive] In a heartbeat.

[Pause]

Dave took a while to find some dessert, which was fine by me. I needed to make some room in the stomach region, if you catch my drift. When he came back out, eventually, he had a tray of flan. I couldn’t help laughing. We were in a magical place that to the best of my knowledge didn’t exist anywhere in the known world. And after enjoying a truly out-of-this-world steak – although that may have had something to do with my not having had something as good as steak in a really long time; plus we were no longer in the “known world” – seeing the final course, the piece de resistance, the dessert to end all desserts . . . Flan. Well, I guess it makes perfect sense, in a way: The actual rock of Gibraltar is a part of the southern coast of Spain, where flan is as common as . . . Paella and flamenco, right?

This may be a different Rock of Gibraltar. An alternate one. Perhaps on another plane of existence. But the Spanish influence is still there, that’s for sure.

Dave had this worried look on his face when he came out from the kitchen, like he’d just found a human head in the . . . You know, let’s just not got there. It still hasn’t been long enough.

As if he’d just seen a ghost.

JAKE: “Is there something wrong Dave? Was the flan hard to find?”

He takes a while to respond; his mind is clearly on something. The eyes . . . Aren’t focused, glazed over. What the hell happened in there?

JAKE: “Dave?”

He snaps back to attention, looking at me.

DAVE: “Erm . . . It’s . . . It’s the food. I noticed something weird with it.”

That’s when alarm bells start ringing for me.

JAKE: “What do you mean? What we just ate? Am I about to get fucking food poisoning?”

DAVE: “No, no . . . Nothing like that. At least I don’t think so. No. It’s not that. I’m definitely sure it isn’t. It’s just . . . Bloody weird. I saw it when I was cleaning up. Throwing away all the packages the food was in. It was all perfectly organized. Everything packaged. And on all those packages was an expiry date.”

JAKE: “Oh shit! You missed that? It was expired, wasn’t it?”

DAVE: “No . . . You see, that’s the thing: they’re not expired. Absolutely not. They’re . . . They’re a long fucking way from expired, in fact.”

JAKE: “Oh . . . Oh? That’s . . . What? Really?

DAVE: “Yeah, but get this: I’m not just talking about a few months from expiring, or even a few years.”

JAKE: “What?”

DAVE: “How about eighty years?”

JAKE: “What the fuck. No.”

DAVE: “I’m being serious.”

JAKE: “And how the hell can you tell? That would be like in the year 2100? Don’t they just have double digits for the year?”

DAVE: “No, mate. The entire date is printed on the package.”

JAKE [Disbelief]: “No fucking way.”

He stares at me then, angry all of a sudden.

DAVE [Quiet voice]: “Follow me”

I follow him into the kitchen and he opens the refrigerator and steps back, waiting. I take him up on the offer, reaching in and grabbing a mysterious package of brown meat. Another steak. Different marinade. And there’s the expiration date printed on the packaging, clear as day. May 22nd . . . 2103.”

I can’t believe what I’m seeing.

JAKE: “Holy. Fucking. Shit.”

Minutes pass. Then more.

JAKE [Breath]: “I’m sorry, Dave. For doubting you. It was just so hard to believe.”

DAVE: “I know mate. Couldn’t believe it myself.”

JAKE: “Okay. Good.” I turn to him. “We good?”

DAVE: “Yeah. Bffs.”

[Laughter]

DAVE: “Smashing.”

JAKE: “So where are we headed next?”

He turns serious suddenly.

DAVE: “Why are you asking me?”

JAKE: “It’s okay, I don’t mean anything by it. You know as much about this place as I do. Maybe . . . I dunno, maybe I wanna take a step back from always being the first one through the door and making all the decisions. Calling all the shots. Monica was great at getting shit done, but I was always the one that had to take that first step. Make that first choice. I . . . I want to let someone else lead for a change.”

Dave breaks into a smile.

DAVE: “Okay, mate. You just follow me then. I’ve got a few ideas. First, we start by having a look at all the buildings in the vicinity. Find out what they all are. What they’re like. What’s going on inside. I think that should give us some starting thoughts about what is actually going on in this bloody strange place.”

JAKE: “That sounds . . . Fantastic. Amazing.”

DAVE: “Brilliant.”

JAKE: “Yeah, that too.”

DAVE: “No, I meant . . . Good. As in: glad you’re happy with my idea.”

JAKE: “Ah right. A Britishism.”

DAVE: “Righty-oh, let’s get a move-on then.”

JAKE: “Right behind ya.”

He leaves the kitchen, and I put the package of meat back in the refrigerator, on top of all the others and close the door. It gives a nice sucking sound; airtight. I look at the row of refrigerators along one wall, and then the other. Then I turn to the other end of the kitchen and see more, and other units that are probably freezers.

There’s a lot of fucking food here. More than you’d need for a rainy day. And with those ridiculous expiration dates, I don’t know whether to half believe, or just prepare myself to be near the bathroom for the next day or two.

No. If I’d have to guess: I’d say this is enough food for a decent-sized group of people for something like . . . The end of the world.

[PAUSE]

[DAVE:]

I’m . . . I’m starting to remember more things. Lots of things. About here. About being here. With others. With friends. With . . . My mum. In this place. This other Gib. This alternate Rock. I’m . . . I’m keeping ahead of Jake. I don’t want him hearing any of this. Not at the moment at least. Jake’s had his own share of secrets and going through his own thoughts to understand them completely, so now it’s my turn.

And . . . And I don’t know what to think about this. What does it all mean? Are these memories that are slotting themselves back inside my head real ones? Real memories? Actual pieces of my past life? They feel like they are. Though . . . With everything that’s happened . . . Here. Happening in Ostium. Happened to me, personally. I . . . There’s just no actual way I can definitely know. They feel correct. A part of me. Like they should be there. Inside. Those memories of earlier times – more nightmares – of killing those men when that entity had control over me . . . Even though they’re inside me too, they don’t fit properly. Differently shaped pieces of the puzzle that don’t match at all, but someone . . . Something has mashed them into the puzzle so they’ll stay there . . . Even if they don’t belong.

So what am I to do?

Stay the course. For the moment. Just keep going and see what happens.

I truly never know what’s round the next corner in Ostium, and the same applies here. To the Rock. Actually, just saying those words . . . The Rock . . . It feels . . . Natural, as if it’s the right way to say it. The comfortable way. I know it’s been called Gib  for a long time, but being here now, in this “other” Rock and saying it . . . Makes me feel like I’ve said it a lot of times before. And dare I say: I feel at home saying it and feeling it?

Yes, I think I do.

[Short pause]

I have a vague idea . . . A vague sense for where I’m going. It’s nothing as elaborate and detailed as those infrared maps Jake and Monica had in their heads. This is more intuition based; a sense and feeling for where things are; where they’re supposed to be. I suppose you’d call it a spidey-sense. Didn’t Jake have something like that happen to him right in the beginning? When he was first trying to find Ostium? I think I remember hearing him talk about being outside a Starbucks, in a carpark, honing in on Ostium, or something. Well, that’s what it feels like for me, right now. I have a strong sense where certain places and buildings are. Possibly because they’re connected with these new memories that are being shoved into my head.

Anyway, I not telling Jake what’s been going on with me. Not yet. There’s just too much happening, with my thoughts and feelings and all that. I want to understand it all first, before I let Jake know what’s going on with me.

So that’s why I cross the street with Jake in tow, stopping at the first building that’s there. We find the front door and go in with no problem. Fifteen minutes later we’re all done. The bottom floor had a reception area, a waiting room, and some offices. Upstairs – and there was a lift, but we both decided we needed some exercise after ingesting all those calories – are four doctor’s offices with a full range of equipment and amenities. Fuck knows what it all does, but there’s a lot of tech up there that makes me think this must be the equivalent of what a hospital is in this place. When something happened to you, whether it was a skinned knee or a broken arm, this was where you’d come to get help. They could do it all: if you needed a plaster or a set of x-rays or an MRI, they had the machinery and ability to get the job done.

We’re outside now. Jake’s walking around a bit, taking in what he’s just seen in the building, and also having a look around. Getting a feel for the place, I suppose he’d say.

And it’s at about this time that a new memory falls into place in me old noggin. It’s hazy, dream-like, but I know it’s me. From my life. My past. I can remember being in one of those hospital rooms. Sitting on the bed. Talking with a doctor, I presume. I’m in one of those hospital gowns. Must’ve been having stuff done to me. Can’t really remember what. I remember talking to the doctor. Telling her about myself. My medical history and stuff. It’s still not that clear. But I feel comfortable. Relaxed. So what I was going through must’ve been . . . Alright. Something I fully agreed to. Maybe it was from early on, when I first came here, possibly.

I just don’t know. Like so much else here. But . . . But it’s a step in the right direction. I’m starting to learn.

I know more than I did before.

[PAUSE]

[JAKE:]

This feels good. Really good. Great in fact! I know. It’s not really that big a deal. But I meant what I said earlier, when I told Dave how I felt like I’d been running the show and calling the shots since . . . Well, since I set foot in Ostium I guess. Monica is . . . I guess Monica “was” is more accurate . . . She’s still out there, technically, somewhere, so there’s always a chance we’ll meet again . . . On some sunny day . . . An infinitesimal chance. Monica was awesome in many ways and in the many things she did for me and with me. For us. I’ve had time to think about it quite a bit. I’m obviously not happy with what she was doing to me, but I can also see where she was coming from. With Steve being her son. A parent looking for her child. It supersedes everything. I understand that. I’ve not forgiven her. I’m not over it. Yet. Not by a long shot. But in time . . . The wounds will heal.

And now I’m getting to step back a bit. I know. It doesn’t seem that big of a thing, really. Letting Dave take the reins and decide on where we’re going . . . In this place that neither of us knows anything about. But it kind of is a big deal for me, personally. It’s allowing me to relax and not worry so much. Not that I was that much before, but it’s felt like my foot has been on the throttle from the beginning. And that’s because I’ve wanted it that way. That’s . . . That’s how I am. I deliberately put myself in those positions because that’s how and where I like to be. That’s where I thrive, so to speak. And it feels like that’s never let up. Especially when I was having those memory problems courtesy of those deadly gloves Monica had.

But now . . . We’re in a new place. Things are different. We’re not going through doors like before. There’s no blackness coming after us here. And hopefully that thing, that crone won’t be following us to this place. And it feels like the right time and the right place to ease off that accelerator, take a step back, and . . . And just chill for a change.

Of course, it’s one thing to acknowledge and tell yourself to take it easy, and another to actually do it. Yeah, I’m letting Dave go wherever he wants right now and I’m just following. Learning as much about this place as he is. That hospital was interesting. Definitely felt like I was in some scifi movie, with how clean and simple everything looked. There were machines and tech, but not wires anywhere. No tools or objects sitting around. All clean and sterile and like a medical bay on the Enterprise – pick the series.

We start checking out other buildings. Don’t have any problems getting in. But they’re nothing special; nothing’s really standing out, although I don’t really know what to expect. Should something stand out? Am I looking for a special Ostium door to be waiting for me, open and inviting me to a world utterly different from this one? Is that because that’s been my way of life for weeks now? This may be the never-before-discovered island of Gibraltar but so far other than the tech and feel of it being a good step into the future, it’s all been pretty mundane . . . When compared to say a special little town that takes you through doors to different places in time and space.

Just saying.

It’s been about a couple hours and we’ve checked out sixteen other buildings, which have all been nothing special: offices, classrooms, a gym, conference rooms. Though we did see a couple weird things that should be pointed out.

In one room that was most likely an office, the desk and chairs had all been pushed to the side of the room and in the center was . . . [breath] . . . This giant pentagram drawn in chalk. No, not drawn exactly. More like someone had made it by pouring chalk in the shape of a pentagram.

In another room, this was a conference room, big table with lots of chairs . . . Except the chairs were all stacked up in the middle of the table in the shape of a tower. Dave actually walked up to it and reached out to touch the strange stack. I was about to yell at him not to, but nothing happened. The tower didn’t fall down in a noisy cacophony as I’d expected. It didn’t even move. Dave then shook it. Nothing. No movement whatsoever. I walked closer, wanting to know what the hell was going on here.

DAVE: “They’re fused.”

I didn’t believe him. Again. But once I was standing next to him I saw he was totally right. Not just the metal, but the plastic too. It was like they been melted and become one solid mass and then re-hardened.

JAKE: “Fucking weird, man,” were the only words I had to say.

Emphatic nod from Dave.

In the last room of the last building – this was the gym – and it was in the women’s shower room. It wasn’t immediately noticeable. We checked each shower stall and were about to leave when Dave said:

DAVE: “Hang on a sec.”

I looked at him, eyebrows raised.

DAVE: “Just . . . Just be quiet for a minute and listen.”

So I did. Didn’t hear anything. What the hell was he talking about? There were no strange sounds, no weird . . .

And then I did hear it. It was the showers. The shower heads. They were all dripping. A drop ever few seconds. Nothing special, except that all twelve showers were dripping. Not at the same time, but in sequence. But the sequence didn’t repeat. Well, sometimes it did. Other times it didn’t.

It . . . It was a fucking song. The drip sounds were just different enough to be making music . . . Somehow.

JAKE: “It’s music?”

Dave nodded.

JAKE: “Damn, it’s real familiar. I can almost guess it . . .”

DAVE: “Clair de lune.”

JAKE: “That’s it.”

We kept listening for a few more seconds, then we both looked at each other.

It was really fucking creepy.

We got the hell out of there.

And now we’ve crossed the street and we’re headed to what looks like . . . Townhouses? I don’t know. I’m getting the residential vibe off of them. How they’re in a long row along the street here, all numbered, and all identical.

We go up to the first one and the door doesn’t have a handle or anything. But there is a panel on the left and now that we’re standing in the door-well it’s lit up with a numerical light-up display. I try tapping in some numbers, but nothing happens. I look at Dave. He just shrugs.

We check each townhouse along the street and they’ve all got the same doorway unsurprisingly. Each panel lights up at we reach the door.

At the fifth door Dave seems a little more excited. I’m not sure what it is. Like he’s expecting something with this door. But it’s exactly the same as all the others. We step up to it and the panel lights up.

DAVE: “Tell you what. I want to try something here. You watch the door and let me know if anything happens.”

JAKE: “Sure,” I say, willing to try anything at this point. Fuck all is happening.

I watch the door like I’m playing a game of Geoguessr: impatiently waiting for something to materialize; some sign that I recognize.

Why thank you, yes, that was a good callback. I thought so too.

And as I’m joking around, there’s an audible click and the door pops open. Just like that.

I’m give Dave a look that you can probably easily imagine, but let me put it in perspective for you: it’s that look you give your favorite band when you’re seeing them live for the first time and you won front-row seats for free.

He wiggles his fingers at me and says:

DAVE: “Magic hands, mate.”

Then he steps in front of me and walks inside.

[PAUSE]

[DAVE:]

I need to be ahead of Jake. It’s for a reason. I know he’s been letting me lead the way which has worked out just fine in my book, but now it’s more crucial than ever. Because I picked this particular pad for a reason. A big bloody reason. You see the memories keep coming to me as more time passes and once I saw the row of houses that reminded me a lot of my mother country with them all joined together in a row, for the first time, I think, I actually recognized myself. I’ve definitely been here before. By myself, and with other people. I could remember that. Not who I was with, but just having a physical presence here. In this exact spot. At one point. And when we went up to the first house, I knew immediately we weren’t going to be able to get in. Because you need a special code for that. A six-digit one. Jake tried a few things, which of course didn’t work. And then we started moving on down the road, from one house to the next.

When we got to this one I had to come up with something quick to distract Jake.

Because I knew the code to get in . . .

Because this used to be my house . . .

Back when there were lots of people in this town. I can remember that now. I was one of them. And this was where I slept. Where I lived. And the code worked just like it always did.

[Short pause]

I charge up the stairs, going two at a time, and sometimes three, to get to the top as quick as possible. I can hear Jake coming up behind me, but not as fast. That’s good. I don’t know what I’m going to find at the top, but I’m not ready for Jake to know everything going on with me. Yet. I will tell him. Soon. I promise. Just not now. So I need to make sure there are no triggers here. Nothing bloody blatant that’ll make it completely obvious to him.

Stepping into the room truly feels like . . . Coming home to me. There’s a blossoming warm feeling in my chest. I’m actually getting a little dewy-eyed. I blink a few times and have a look around. Everything seems pretty normal. A bit dusty I suppose. Quite a bit, actually. But nothing out of the ordinary that says: “Welcome to Chez Dave,” except for that bloody framed photograph on the table there. I’ve just got tens of seconds now before Jake’s at the top of the stairs and looking in. I dive onto the sofa and grab the photo. Now what the hell am I going to do with it? I shove it down my trousers for now, the band of my boxers holding it decently in place.

Good. Okay then. Will need to be careful not to make any sudden moves. And especially watch it when sitting down. Fine. I just won’t do that then.

Jake’s at the top of the stairs now, eyes on me. Eyebrows raised in confusion.

I’m still on the sofa. I mime grabbing my calf muscle.

DAVE: “I knew I shouldn’t have run  up the stairs like that, I was just . . . Really excited at getting and seeing the place.”

JAKE: “Charlie horse?”

DAVE: “You what?”

JAKE: “Er . . . I mean leg cramp?”

DAVE: “Oh, yeah. Me right calf. Give me a few minutes and I’ll be fine.”

Jake nods and starts walking around the living room.

I continue my acting bit, pretending to massage the muscle like it really hurts.

After I’ve decided enough time has passed I get up and follow Jake who’s already checked out the kitchen and now he’s in the bedroom. He’s looking through the wardrobe. Lots of clothes hanging from coat-hangers. My clothes. I recognize some of them immediately.

Then Jake and I see the datapad on the bedside table. He gets there before me and picks it up.

Shit!

JAKE: “Hmm,” he says, looking at it intently. “Seems like it’s password protected. You wanna have a go?”

DAVE: “Sure,” I say, taking it from his hands. I turn and leave the bedroom, letting out a deep breath.

JAKE: “You know what.”

I come to a full stop and slowly turn around. Worried.

DAVE: “What?”

JAKE: “We should stay here. Sleep here tonight. Use this as a place to rest. There’s a bed and a couch. We could take turns. At least we’d have a roof over our heads and sleep comfortably?”

I think quickly, don’t want to take too long or he’ll become suspicious.

DAVE: “Sure, mate, that sounds smashing. Good idea. You ready to keep looking around? We’ve still got a good three hours of daylight left.”

JAKE: “Yeah. Sounds good. Will you be able to get us back in here, or do we need to keep the door ajar?”

DAVE: “No worries, mate. Magic hands, remember?

His smile is a good enough answer and I’m leading the away back down the stairs and out onto the street.

I notice Jake leaves the door open a bit anyway. I’m all right with that.

I’ve got somewhere very particular in mind I want to go next. The memory is making itself known to me now, and I think if I find what I’m looking for it’s going to go a long way to making me remember everything.

And I’ve managed to move the frame around to my bum where it’s sitting much more comfortably.

[PAUSE]

[JAKE:]

It’s funny how one’s outlook to the day can totally change when you know there’s a soft piece of furniture waiting for you come nightfall. I didn’t really know where we were going to sleep tonight. Pretty much everything we’ve seen so far has been hard chairs and hard tables and hard floor.

This changes everything!

Well, not really. But it makes things a lot better. Since we’re going to be here for the indefinite future. Having a place to stay . . . What is it they say that the requirements for survival are: water, food, and shelter. In that order. Check, check, and check!

I feel like something’s going on with Dave. I don’t know what it is, but the longer we’re here, the weirder he’s starting to act. Like the way he ran up those stairs. He gave me an excuse, and I knew it was an excuse. The lie was painted clearly across his face. So what’s he covering up? Apparently he knows something I don’t, and it’s big enough that he doesn’t want to tell me.

Well, I definitely know how he feels. So for the time being I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and see where he takes us next.

That’s another thing I’ve worked out about Dave. At first he was just checking out buildings, but somewhere along the way he found his path and knew where he wanted to go next. Just like now. I don’t know if he realizes it, but we’re going past buildings we haven’t checked yet. He’s got a destination in mind and I’m just going to go with it.

[Short pause]

And here we are. A nondescript building. Unassuming. One like any other. The door is unlocked like the others too and we step inside.

There’s a sort of waiting room with a couch and a couple chairs and a desk. It feels like a waiting room at a small time doctor or a dentist, but there’s something off about it. Something’s not . . . Oh. Dave’s seen it right away and is already standing in front of another door that grants one access to the next room. The one where the assistant comes out to bring you back you go through a normal opening. Here it’s all about security and whether you’re allowed back there. Or not.

But this door is also unlocked. So much for security.

And Dave’s already through and making his way down the hall. I have to speed up to keep close.

We pass more doors, all closed. Then we reach a T-stop. He turns left without hesitation.

I’m almost jogging now. I could call out to him. Yell his name. But I know it wouldn’t do anything. The guy is locked in. He’s got somewhere he wants to be; he knows where he’s going; and nothing’s gonna stop him or slow him down.

I’m just glad I got invited along for the ride.

And then we’re in a booth with an instrument panel. There are no actual buttons, but I can tell what it is because it’s lit up like the navigation station on the Enterprise. Above the panel is a big window looking into an unassuming room.

Dave has stopped, taking everything in, and now he’s moving again over to the pressurized door that gives one access to the special room. Has he seen something I missed? I look back through the window and see plain walls and no furniture or objects in the room, and then I do see something. I take three steps to the right to get a better angle on it.

There it is. Along one of the walls.

It’s a door.

A certain kind of door.

An Ostium door. It looks exactly like every single door I’ve ever seen there. Without a number

Holy shit.

Now I’m following Dave. He’s got the door unlocked somehow and as it opens there’s a sharp hiss.

I follow him inside and we both walk up to the door.

He looks at me and I’m surprised by the look on his face. He’s not confused. He’s confident. Aware.

He knows what this door is.

Why it’s here.

And what here is.

And that’s when we both hear another booming sound from outside somewhere.

[PAUSE]

[DAVE:]

JAKE: Okay Dave, time to spill the beans?

DAVE: What?

JAKE: I know you know what this place is. I don’t. I don’t have a fucking clue. And that thing right there . . . Is really scaring the crap out of me. So what the hell is going on here? And how do you know about it?

I take a long, deep breath.

DAVE: Alright, Jake. I’m going to tell you. It’s time. I’m going to tell you everything I know. Everything that’s at least come back to me. But not here.

JAKE: What? Why?

DAVE: It holds too many memories for me. This room. This place. Let’s go back to the house. We’ll make dinner. And I’ll tell you everything.

Jake isn’t saying anything, thinking things over. Can’t blame him. Then his frowny face clears and he gives me a nod.

JAKE: But you’re going to have to show me how the hell we get out of here, because I’m totally lost.

He’s smiling now, which is good. It makes me smile.

DAVE: Okay, mate. Follow me.